Five fearless predictions for Monday night’s Carolina Panthers game against the Miami Dolphins:
1. Panthers will have the lead at the half
So this might not qualify as a bold prediction, considering the Dolphins have trailed at the break in seven of their eight games this season. They erased a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat Atlanta in Week 6 and were down by 14 in the fourth quarter to the Jets the following week before rallying. But it's a tough way to win, especially playing on the road in a charged Monday night atmosphere.
2. Cam Newton will lead the Panthers in rushing.
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The 2015 league MVP has been Carolina's top rusher in each of the past four games, the first time that's happened in Newton's seven-year career. The Panthers will struggle to get their ground game going against a Ndamukong Suh-led defense ranked seventh against the run (94.0 rushing yards allowed per game). That will prompt Newton to take matters into his own hands again, and he'll finish with about 60 yards on 10 carries.
3. Jay Cutler will throw for 300 yards.
Cutler, the Dolphins' $10 million fill-in for Ryan Tannehill, completed his first 16 passes last week in a loss to Oakland on his way to a 311-yard passing effort. Cutler finished with a quarterback rating of 121.3, his second-highest since 2014. The former Bears and Broncos QB will be forced to put up at least 35 passes because the Panthers will stuff Miami's Jay Ajayi-less rushing attack and the Dolphins will be trailing. Again.
4. Cutler will get to 300 the hard way.
Standing in the pocket that often will take a toll on Cutler, who's only a few weeks removed from broken ribs. Miami's offensive line has done a good job protecting Cutler, and guard Ted Larsen is back after spending eight weeks on injured reserve with a torn biceps. Still, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will come after Cutler with an array of blitzes, including A-gap stunts with LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Can't see Julius Peppers going without a sack vs. his old Bears teammate.
5. Panthers will get a big play from a rookie.
Second-round pick Curtis Samuel saw his reps jump in the wake of Kelvin Benjamin's trade to Buffalo. Samuel tweaked his ankle at practice this week, but should be good to go vs. a Dolphins secondary that gets safety T.J. McDonald back from an eight-game suspension. Mike Shula will look to get Samuel more touches as the Panthers try to stretch the field. But it will be first-round pick Christian McCaffrey who supplies the biggest play in the passing game in his first Monday Night Football appearance. The boost will help spur Carolina to its third consecutive win. Panthers 24, Dolphins 17.
Dolphins at Panthers
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Watch: ESPN, WSOC (Charlotte)