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Banged-up Falcons look for bang-up game against Panthers

By Week 14 of the NFL season, attrition factors into analyzing almost every matchup. The Atlanta Falcons registered 16 players on the injury report this week, and omissions Michael Turner and Julio Jones, have shown signs that they are in less than optimum shape.

The Carolina Panthers have loaded up the injured reserve list with 14 players, including their interior defensive line, both of whom were shelved this week.

It is simpler to project these games in, say, mid-October, when Atlanta bopped the Panthers 31-17. Both teams' physical conditions cloud the picture this time.

One other factor is blue-sky clear: rookie Cameron Newton's arc of improvement. He is less prone to interceptions -- credit, in part, to resurrected receiver Steve Smith -- and he runs the ball as effectively as that Tebow dude out west.

Falcons receiver Roddy White says his side might dial up 50 running plays, which is only a slight exaggeration in view of Turner's bust-out games against the Panthers. But the wear and tear on Turner might reduce the number, forcing Matt Ryan to air it out. Then again: Atlanta's primo rookie, Julio Jones, has regressed since hurting both hamstrings.

There you go: The outcome in Charlotte -- and in so many other locales -- during December rests with injuries and how players cope with them. The Falcons have the better team, hands down.

The team that better fights through the aches and pains often is the one trading high-fives.


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