Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against Buffalo.
1. Sean McDermott will blitz Cam Newton.
McDermott was among those who would get irritated with Newton when the Panthers QB would taunt the defense during practice. McDermott isn’t as blitz-crazy as the late Jim Johnson, his mentor in Philadelphia. But with the Panthers he liked to walk linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly up into the A gaps and blitz one or both of them. Carolina’s offensive line didn’t allow a sack in Week 1 and the new offense has Newton releasing the ball more quickly. Still, McDermott will take his shots.
2. Leonard Johnson will make a play vs. Newton.
Johnson is among several ex-Panthers on the Bills’ Carolina North roster. Johnson, Buffalo’s starting nickel, developed a friendship with Newton during their one season together in Charlotte. McDermott liked to use Johnson in blitz situations with Carolina, and he’ll send the 5-10, 194-pounder at Newton on Sunday. And Johnson will get his man.
3. Luke Kuechly gets revenge on Mike Tolbert.
During a mildly entertaining Pro Bowl after the 2013 season, Tolbert barreled through Kuechly for 7 yards in a short-yardage situation. Kuechly – like every other defender – wasn’t going full-bore, but he will be Sunday, as will a Steve Wilks defense that stuffed the 49ers on 3-of-4 fourth-down plays last week. Tolbert, a popular player when he was in Charlotte, had 12 carries and scored on a 1-yard TD run in his first game in Buffalo. He’ll get a goal-line carry Sunday – and Kuechly will get his revenge.
4. Tyrod Taylor will test the CBs deep.
Taylor is a little like Newton in a smaller body. He doesn’t have a lot of touch and isn’t adept at throwing his receivers open. But he can make plays with his feet and he does own a strong arm. Niners WR Marquise Goodwin ran a bunch of go routes against Carolina last week. The former Olympian got behind James Bradberry, only to drop the ball. The Bills don’t have any wideouts as fast as Goodwin, but it won’t stop them from taking a couple of shot vs. Bradberry and Daryl Worley, who will fare better on the deep balls.
5. Christian McCaffrey will be busy again.
The Panthers and Bills throttled terrible Week 1 opponents behind strong defensive efforts. McDermott consistently drew up good gameplans during his six years in Carolina and knows the Panthers’ personnel as well as anyone. But he’s not really familiar with McCaffrey, who again will get a bunch of touches. McCaffrey will turn a couple of those into long, momentum-changing plays. Panthers 24, Bills 17.
Bills at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Sunday, 1 p.m.
CBS (Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon)