Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Oakland:
1. The Panthers will fall behind early.
The Raiders have allowed an NFL-low 19 points in the first quarter this season. In five of their 10 games, they haven’t given up any first-quarter points. Meanwhile, the Panthers are averaging only 3.5 first-quarter points on the road this season. Falling behind is not a recipe for success for Carolina, especially if the Panthers aren’t able to establish a running game without injured offensive line starters Ryan Kalil and Michael Oher. (See No. 2.)
2. Cam Newton will pay for his 300 passing yards.
The Raiders have managed only 15 sacks this season, last in the league. Defensive end Khalil Mack (eight) has accounted for more than half of the sacks while lining up on both sides of the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme. The Raiders also have perennial Panthers-killer Bruce Irvin at outside linebacker. Newton will get his yards against a defense ranked 28th vs. the pass (277.9 yards a game). But getting a lead will allow Jack Del Rio to be more aggressive coming after Newton with blitzes and stunts.
3. Raiders will protect Derek Carr, and in return ...
Carr will protect the ball. Oakland has given up only 11 sacks, fewest in the NFL. That’s a product of excellent protection but also Carr’s ability to get the ball out quickly. And while the Panthers have turned up their pressure over the past month, quick-releasing quarterbacks have given them fits all season. Carr has only thrown four interceptions – among the fewest in the league – despite taking several shots downfield every game.
4. Oakland will win the field-position game.
Ron Rivera, despite his “Riverboat Ron” nickname, is more inclined to punt near midfield and keep opponents backed up. Panthers punter Michael Palardy did OK vs. New Orleans in his first game taking over for Andy Lee, but his net was only 35.7 yards. He’ll have a tough time matching Raiders punter Marquette King, who leads the league with 23 punts of 50 yards or more and is tied for first with 11 punts downed inside the 10-yard line.
5. Shaq Thompson will shine in homecoming game.
The Panthers need a play-maker to step up in the absence of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Thompson, the outside LB from Sacramento, is due for one – and what better place to break out than near his hometown. With nickel back Leonard Thompson questionable with a chest injury, Thompson should be on the field a lot at both linebacker and nickel. The increased snaps will result in several big plays, including a takeaway. But it won’t be enough to save his team. RAIDERS 31, PANTHERS 30.
Panthers at Raiders
Oakland Coliseum, Oakland
Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson)