3 Things to Watch
Could be a big day for fumbles. Although Panthers safety Chris Harris has made a name for himself as a defender with an uncanny knack for forcing fumbles, Kansas City leads the league with seven fumble recoveries.
A breakout rushing day coming?
A lot of attention is focused on the need to stop Chiefs running back Larry Johnson. But Kansas City's run defense allows 176.5 yards per game, so DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could have big gameseven with the absence of offensive tackles Jordan Gross and potentially without Jeff Otah..
Kansas City can't rely on many players with experience. Thirty-two Chiefs have less than four years of NFL experience. Six rookies started on opening day.
Panthers defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu loves old cars. He helped his uncle work on them while growing up in Hawaii and owns two classic vehicles from the '60s – the only cars he owns.
“A lot of guys get BMWs and the Mercedes Benz,” Kemoeatu said. “I'm a fan of old cars.”
Here's a rundown of what ‘Kemo' likes about his vintage cars, plus two he'd love to someday own:
1. 1969 CHEVY CHEVELLE: “It's silver with a black top. I told myself if I ever make money, I'd get something like that.”
2. 1966 PONTIAC GTO: “I got it off Jordan (Gross). He sold it to me.”
3. LINCOLN CONTINENTAL: “I'd want one with a convertible top. It's perfect. I don't have one like that yet.”
4. CHEVY IMPALA: “Those are nice.”
Key to the Game
Panthers LB Jon Beason
The Panthers' new simplified defensive philosophy could serve Beason well today. He won't have many other responsibilities aside from chasing down Johnson.
Beason has 44 tackles this season – on pace to break the team record he set last season as a rookie (160).
Chiefs RB Larry Johnson
One of the NFL's elite backs, Johnson rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns last week against Denver.
He'll need quarterback Damon Huard to be effective with the pass, because the Panthers are sure to concentrate on Johnson early and force the Chiefs to take to the air.
Someone mentioned to quarterback Jake Delhomme that today might be a “trap” game for the Panthers – a game against a seemingly beatable opponent (Kansas City) sandwiched between two division games (Atlanta last week, Tampa Bay next week).
Delhomme bristled. “That's college!” he said. “That's high school!”
So, while Delhomme channeled his days at Louisiana-Lafayette and Lafayette's Teurlings Catholic High, he made this point:
“I've never understood that. I don't even know who we play next week. Tampa? OK, Tampa next week. That game means nothing. If we don't go out and play our best (against Kansas City), that's it. You do whatever you can do to get to 4-1.”
Give Delhomme credit: He didn't say he was taking one game at a time or that on any given Sunday …
The best thing that could have happened to Carolina was for Kansas City to play so superbly a week ago in its 33-19 win against Denver. Without that, Panthers coach John Fox would have had a hard time convincing his players they weren't going to beat the Chiefs by at least 14.
I believe a Carolina running back will surpass 100 yards Sunday for the first time this season – even with franchise offensive tackle Jordan Gross missing the game. I don't know if it will be DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart. The Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in defending the run, and they are about to get a steady diet of it Sunday. And when the Chiefs commit more defenders to stop it, I expect Carolina to try at least two or three deep balls to Steve Smith and to connect on one.
Kansas City isn't the worst team in the NFL (hello, St. Louis!), but it would make my Bottom5. There are no gimme putts in the NFL, but this is about as close as it comes – a 2-footer, straight uphill. If the Panthers miss this one, they'll regret it the rest of the season.
Watch for Carolina to keep a safety in the box for most of the game, meaning at least eight defenders will line up near the line. The Panthers know Larry Johnson could beat them, but they would like to dare Kansas City quarterback Damon Huard to do so.
The Panthers won't do everything right in this one – it won't be the rout that some people expect – but they will do enough.
My pick: Carolina 30, Kansas City 17.