Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against the San Diego Chargers:
1. Philip Rivers will hit it big.
Rivers sounded geeked this week to be playing in North Carolina again. Forget his N.C. State ties. The former Wolfie has to be fired up to face a Panthers defense that gave up eight plays of 20 yards or longer last week against Seattle, including three covering at least 40 yards. Rivers has completed 13 passes of 40 yards or longer this season, two shy of his career high. The only quarterback with more 40-plus bombs than Rivers is Matt Ryan (15), who torched the Panthers’ secondary for 503 yards in Week 4.
2. Melvin Gordon will exploit Panthers’ defense.
With his sideline outbursts in Seattle, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly showed more intensity than any Carolina defender actually playing in the game. The Panthers hoped to get back Kuechly back, but he was ruled out Saturday and remains in the concussion protocol. That’s problematic for a defense that let the Seahawks’ Thomas Rawls run wild for 106 yards and a 45-yard TD. Gordon is fourth in the league in rushing (992) and all-purpose yards (1,411). He will add substantially to both totals.
3. A sack and a forced fumble for Melvin Ingram
As disruptive as rookie defensive end Joey Bosa has been, San Diego outside linebacker Melvin Ingram has been even more of a backfield menace. Ingram, who was born in Hamlet, N.C., and played for Richmond County, leads the Chargers with six sacks, 33 pressures and 19 quarterback hits. Ingram will get his third forced fumble of the season with a strip-sack of Cam Newton, extending San Diego’s streak with at least one takeaway to 19 games.
4. Ted Ginn Jr. will pull in a long TD pass
The dip in snaps and production for Panthers’ No. 1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin has coincided with a spike in Ted Ginn’s effectiveness. The veteran is still prone to occasional drops and lapses in judgment. But at 31, Ginn has shown he still has elite, game-breaking speed. Ginn is riding a streak of three games with a touchdown catch of 40 yards or longer. He’ll make it four consecutive games with a 50-yarder from Newton vs. the Chargers.
5. The fourth quarter will be crazy
The Panthers (138 points) and Chargers (122) have given up more fourth-quarter points than any other teams. That end-of-game ineptitude should make for a wild finish. San Diego has blown five of their 10 fourth-quarter leads, including last week vs. Tampa Bay. Rivers threw two second-half interceptions against the Bucs, including a rally-killer in the fourth quarter. But Rivers will be the hero Sunday, leading San Diego to a game-winning touchdown and handing Carolina another close loss. Chargers 28, Panthers 27.
Chargers at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Sunday, 1 p.m.
FOX (Sam Rosen, Brady Quinn, Jennifer Hale)