The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers have met each other twice a year since the 1995 season. They have been in the same division, the NFC West (1995–2001) and NFC South (2002–present), the entire time. The rivalry is commonly known as the “I-85 Rivalry” due to Atlanta and Charlotte being only four hours apart on Interstate 85 as it meanders up the eastern seaboard. These two teams will forever be interlocked in NFL history as the Panthers first-ever game as an expansion team was against the Falcons.
History of Falcons vs. Panthers Rivalry
Carolina’s debut regular season game was a 23–20 overtime loss to the Falcons on September 3, 1995. Since that game, the Atlanta Falcons have largely owned the series against the Panthers. Including the inaugural game, the Falcons have gone 30-18 against Carolina with some big wins mixed in there. In 2015, the Falcons ruined the Panthers chance at an undefeated season and in 2017, a win over the Panthers clinched a playoff berth for Atlanta. Likewise, the Panthers have had their share of big moments against the Falcons. In 2013, they clinched the NFC South with a one point win over the Falcons. Then, in 2014, the Panthers scored their biggest regular season win in team history with a 34-3 drubbing of Atlanta in a winner-take-all for the NFC South in the Georgia Dome. The biggest win in the series history by the Falcons came on November 24, 2002 when Michael Vick and company lead the Falcons to a 41-0 win in Carolina. For the Panthers, their biggest win against the Falcons came on December 13, 2015 in a win that brought them to 13-0 on the season, Cam Newton and the Panthers torched the Falcons 38-0.
Over the course of the rivalry, the Falcons have held a huge home field advantage while the Panthers have really failed to take advantage of the friendly confines. Atlanta is 18-6 against Carolina in Atlanta while the Panthers are just 12-12 in Charlotte. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Falcons have the advantage on the road as well, winning 5 of 9 games in Charlotte while owning the Panthers in Atlanta at a 7-2 clip. Overall, the Panthers have had a rough go of it when they head down Interstate 85 to take on the Falcons.
Head to Head Analysis of Falcons vs. Panthers
Despite these two teams being just hours from each other, they have made a huge impact on the landscape of the NFL as a whole. They have combined for twelve divisional championships with Atlanta winning their division in 1980, 1998, 2004, 2010, 2012, and 2016 and Carolina taking the title in 1996, 2003, 2008, 2013, 2014, and 2015. It is quite clear that since the late 2000’s, these two teams have dominated the top of the NFC South standings. Surprisingly though, in the 24 seasons that these two franchises have co-existed in the same division, they have never met in the playoffs. Both franchises have also appeared in the Super Bowl two times each, with Atlanta making the trip in 1998 and then in 2016, where they let the Patriots come back and snag a victory from them. Carolina appeared in 2003 and 2015, with the latter being a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos. Both teams are still looking for the first Super Bowl championship. Atlanta now has played 53 seasons without winning the Super Bowl while the Panthers are sitting at 24.
A Glance at Postseason Success in Falcons vs. Panthers
In the past twenty years, the Falcons have held an almost 2/1 advantage over the Panthers, winning 26/40 games between the two rivals. The Falcons also saw their lead over Carolina increase when Matt Ryan became the starting quarterback in Atlanta. At the time he took over, the Falcons were just 16-11 over the Panthers, but now that has swelled to 30-18, making Ryan 14-7 against his inter-divisional rival since starting his first game for the Falcons in 2008. Cam Newton started his first game for the Panthers in October of 2011 and during his tenure the Panthers are just 6-9 against the Falcons, which is very close to the franchise matchup trends as a whole.
Not only have these two franchises had some success in the NFC during the rivalry, but there have also been some really good players taking the field for both teams. Each team has had one Most Valuable Player award winner and both of those have come very recently. In 2015, Cam Newton became the first-ever Panthers player to win the MVP award. He finished the season with 3,837 yards passing, 35 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Newton also ran for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns as he led the Panthers to an appearance in Super Bowl 50. Not to be outdone, Matt Ryan earned the MVP award in 2016 after posting 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions while leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl where they were ultimately beat in dramatic fashion by the New England Patriots. Other top players in this rivalry include Luke Kuechly, Steve Smith, Ryan Kalil, Thomas Davis, and Sam Mills for the Panthers with the Falcons participants being Julio Jones, Warrick Dunn, Tony Gonzalez, and John Abraham.
Falcons vs. Panthers Rivalry Outlook
The current outlook for the Panthers seems to be pretty steady with plenty of years left for both Newton and Ryan. Both teams will enter the 2019 season with big question marks following disappointing seasons that saw the New Orleans Saints run roughshod over the rest of the division. The Falcons and Panthers enter the 2019-2020 with playoff expectations and so each game head to head will be increasingly important. The Panthers need to reverse the trend on their inability to win in Atlanta while the Falcons need to continue their home dominance and hold serve in Charlotte. After just missing out on Super Bowl victories the past few years, the window is shrinking for each franchise to end their drought.