Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against the Kansas City Chiefs:
1. Cam Newton will break a long run
The Panthers have been running fewer zone-read plays since Newton returned from the concussion protocol. And when offensive coordinator Mike Shula does call for the read option, Newton often has been handing it off to Jonathan Stewart. But Newton will pull the ball out of Stewart’s gut and keep it for a big gainer against a Chiefs defense that has struggled stopping the run and will be missing defensive end Jaye Howard.
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2. There will be Auburn-on-Auburn crime
Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford has been a terror on the edge this season. The former Auburn defensive end has 5.5 sacks over the past two games and nine sacks overall, which is tied for third in the NFL. Ford usually lines up across from the right tackle, which means Daryl Williams will have to take quick sets to try to handle Ford’s speed. Ford will get to Newton – his old college teammate – at least once.
3. Tyreek Hill will make a big play in the return game
Hill, a fifth-round pick from West Alabama, has been a good find. Hill ranks second in the NFL with a 16.7-yard punt return average and is ninth among kick returners (23.5 yards). As good as punter Andy Lee has been in his first season in Carolina, he occasionally outkicks his coverage. If Lee booms one down the middle of the field, Hill will make him pay. Colin Jones, one of the Panthers’ best special teams players, is out with post-concussion symptoms.
4. The Chiefs will win the turnover battle
Kansas City has protected the ball well since Andy Reid arrived in 2013. The Chiefs’ 57 turnovers are the third-fewest in the league over that span. This year has been no different. The Chiefs lead the NFL in both takeaways (20) and turnover margin (plus-13). Conversely, the Panthers rank near the bottom of the league in both categories. They won’t improve those stats Sunday when K.C. will win the turnover battle 2-1, but ...
5. The Panthers will win the game
The Chiefs aren’t necessarily great at any one thing. But they’re good at a lot of things, and own the NFL’s best record (16-2) over the past 18 games. This is a game the Panthers need to win to keep their playoff dreams alive. They’ll stick with the formula that was successful against Arizona and L.A. – shut down K.C.’s Jamaal Charles-less run game and force Alex Smith to beat them. With No. 1 wide receiver Jeremy Maclin out with a groin injury, Smith won’t have enough weapons to do so. Panthers 20, Chiefs 19.
Chiefs at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Sunday, 1 p.m.
CBS (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn)