The last time that the Green Bay Packers (6-1) played in Charlotte, North Carolina, things were very different between the two teams. Yes, they both had their current quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. They also had the same Head Coaches in Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera. But things are still considerably different.
The Packers were starting Nick Collins at safety at that point, before he had his career ending injury during the game.
It was a neck injury that occurred when he tried to go low on Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart. His helmet hit the thigh of Stewart and his neck bent backwards, which just isn't supposed to happen. The Panthers leading receiver in the game was Steve Smith, with Brandon LaFell getting a receiving touchdown. The Packers running backs still included James Starks, but also had former Packer Ryan Grant in the backfield. Also, the now great Panthers kicker Graham Gano had not signed with the Panthers yet and they were using Olindo Mare.
But the past is in the past now for both these teams. The Packers have had the edge in the past for these teams. But something seems off about the team this year to yours truly. They have struggled against some teams that wouldn't exactly be considered top-tier teams. But they also have been able to beat the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, two teams that they have typically struggled with in prior years. Perhaps it is just the offensive injuries that have caused the offense not to flow quite the same as previously expected. But that is what happens when Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Ty Montgomery all go down with injuries.
The Carolina Panthers (7-0) have had their own share of injuries they have had to overcome to remain undefeated. They are doing quite well offensively considering that Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL back in the preseason. Then when their defensive leader in Luke Kuechly missed games due to a concussion, that was only bound to make things worse. But with Thomas Davis and Josh Norman, the Panther defense has thrived and stayed on top of their game.
One of the keys in this game is going to be how the Packers defense, coached by Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, is able to handle the rushing attack spearheaded by Stewart, Newton, and Mike Tolbert. The Packers have struggled against the run in several of their last few games. They struggled by allowing 160 rushing yards to the Denver Broncos and 191 rushing yards to the St. Louis Rams. Is having Clay Matthews in the middle going to mean that the Packers can get key third down stops against a team that wants to keep Rodgers off the field? That's a question we can't be certain of until the teams meet Sunday at 1 PM Eastern time.
Another key in this game is whether or not Josh Norman is matched up against Randall Cobb or if he will stay on the outside. The Packers receivers typically should be better than the Panthers defensive backs. But Norman is the best cornerback in their defense and if they put him directly on Cobb then Rodgers will have to find Adams, James Jones, and Richard Rodgers more instead. This author also believes the Packers are going to struggle to run in this game because of how good both Kuechly and Davis are. Eddie Lacy just might have trouble finding holes to run into, which could make or break the game for the Packers as well.
With all of that being said, this writer thinks that the home team is going to have the edge in this contest. Newton will find Greg Olsen for a touchdown, and run one in himself. Also, Stewart should be able to get a rushing touchdown of himself with Gano kicking a few field goals. Rodgers won't let the team be shut out, but with James Jones and John Kuhn being the expected touchdowns, a Mason Crosby field goal will likely not be enough to put them in the game. Expect the final score in this contest to be Panthers 27, Packers 17.