Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against the Dallas Cowboys:
1. Panthers’ defensive line holds Elliott under 75 yards.
Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott has played against top-5 rushing defenses five times in a 25-game career. He has averaged 74.2 yards per game.
The Panthers’ defensive line finished No. 3 in the league against the run last season and actually improved with the addition of Dontari Poe to the interior. Stopping Elliott is absolutely a key to the game, and the Panthers will hold him to a manageable number.
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2. Taylor Moton starts at right tackle.
These are supposed to be fearless, right?
Well, second-year tackle Taylor Moton might be the Panthers’ best option against prolific pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, who will attack the Panthers’ right tackle.
It could still be too soon for starting right tackle Daryl Williams to return to the field as he continues to recover from a torn MCL and patella dislocation. Moton was projected to start this Sunday at left tackle, because Matt Kalil was put on injured reserve.
The two options left for Carolina at left or right tackle are Amini Silatolu, who is also rehabilitating a torn meniscus, or recently acquired tackle Corey Robinson.
When facing Lawrence, it might be smart to feature the strongest tackle against him.
And either way, it’ll be crucial to get the ball out of quarterback Cam Newton’s hands quickly.
3. Shaq Thompson will return an interception for a score.
Thompson will start at linebacker in place of Thomas Davis as Davis serves his NFL-mandated four-game suspension.
Thompson had an extraordinary training camp, snagging athletic interceptions and tipped passes each day for the last week. He followed that up with a stellar preseason. He calls this season “The Year of (No.) 54,” and he’ll start it off right on Sunday.
4. Cam Newton finishes with a completion percentage of 60.
Newton has said this year that he wants to keep his completion percentage between 65 and 70 percent. Not only is he healthy this year after spending the entirety of last offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, he also has a solid group of playmakers around him.
But the Panthers’ offensive line is thin, and Dallas’ pass-rush is strong. So if his accuracy dips, it might very well be because he’s on the run or forced to rush his throws.
5. Christian McCaffrey gets 18 touches.
It’s not the 25-30 touches per game head coach Ron Rivera said he wants the pass-catching back to get this season, but it’s a solid start. The Panthers will want to distribute the ball well among their playmakers.
Like they did against New England in the preseason, the Panthers could start fast with McCaffrey, used as a running back and a receiver and get him the ball early and often. As defenses are forced to consider wherever he lines up, other offensive players will have more opportunity.
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Sunday, 4:25 p.m.