The Carolina Panthers seem determined to do things the hard way this season.
From fourth-quarter leads that nearly get lost to actually losing a road game to the woeful Chicago Bears, these Panthers are 9-4 but remain a study in anxiety for their jittery fans. The Panthers have won six games by a single score this season, seemingly playing most of their games on a 100-yard field that ends in a cliff on both sides.
I expect it to be no different Sunday. This time the Panthers must face all-everything quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose return from a collarbone injury comes just in time to make sure Carolina doesn’t get the benefit of playing against Brett Hundley. The Packers (7-6) are playing for their playoff lives, meaning we’re about to get a game worthy of prime time played at 1 p.m. Sunday.
▪ This is interesting: Either Green Bay (2014, 2016) or Carolina (2015) has made it to the NFC Championship Game in each of the past three seasons.
▪ Want a shootout? With Rodgers playing and the Panthers offense facing a porous Green Bay defense, you’re likely in luck. The Packers have scored 29 or more points in six straight games against the Panthers.
▪ The first drive will be quite a challenge for Carolina’s defense Sunday. Green Bay is No. 1 in the NFL in points scored on opening drives this season. The Packers have scored 54 total points the first time they have had the ball in 2017, including seven touchdowns.
▪ Rodgers will be trying to get the ball out of his hands very fast, but Carolina should still have a chance for some sacks. I have been very impressed with the way Mario Addison and Kawann Short have been playing lately, and the Packers are 30th in the NFL in sacks allowed.
▪ Newton set his career high in passing yardage vs. the Packers. Remember that one? It was the second game the quarterback ever played in the NFL, in 2011. Newton threw for 432 yards that day, in a loss, and has never approached that number since.
▪ RIP, Fred Lane. The late Panthers running back still holds the record for most rushing yardage ever gained by a Carolina back against Green Bay, with 119 in 1997.
▪ Prediction time. I have been way off the past two weeks, so don’t put much stock in this as I have fallen to 7-6 predicting these unpredictable Panthers this season.
My pick this week pays homage to the famous “Steve Beuerlein quarterback draw” Packers-Panthers game of 1999, when Beuerlein outdueled Brett Favre and scored the game-winning TD from 5 yards out on a play no one at Lambeau Field ever expected.
I’m going to pick the exact score of that game. Party like it’s 1999: Carolina 33, Green Bay 31.