Five fearless predictions for Thursday night’s Carolina Panthers (6-2) game at Pittsburgh (5-3-1).
1. Second-drive scoring streak
The Panthers haven’t scored on a first drive since Week 2 at Atlanta, and that was a field goal. On Thursday, that streak continues as Carolina gets settled into prime time.
But the second drive will include a touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen.
2. James Conner is Panthers’ toughest test
Carolina smothered Ezekiel Elliott in Week 1, and did the same to Saquon Barkley on the ground in Week 6.
But the Steelers’ James Conner, who is both a power runner and a threat in the passing game, might be Carolina’s most physical test yet, and he’s on a roll with 706 rushing yards, nine touchdowns, and 379 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Carolina will hold him under 100 yards on the ground, but I predict he scores a touchdown as a pass-catcher.
3. Donte Jackson gets a little Antonio Brown
Speed will have to duel speed on Thursday night, with Carolina’s coverage varying to contain.
Because of his speed and tenacity, rookie corner Jackson will square up with top-3 receiver Antionio Brown for at least five targets.
Brown will finish the day with 90 yards and a touchdown - though not all against Jackson.
4. Carolina continues explosive 1st, 2nd and 4th quarters
The Panthers’ explosive offense seems to stall in the third quarter, with Carolina amassing just 13 third-quarter points all season.
Thursday will be no different, with a potential shootout versus big Ben Roethlisberger and his prolific receivers in the first, second and fourth quarters. The Panthers will struggle in the third period, but rally to score twice in the fourth.
5. A Cam Newton-Christian McCaffrey win
Newton and running back/receiver McCaffrey will combine for four touchdowns - with Newton rushing in two, and McCaffrey catching both of his scores.
But a bad third quarter for Carolina will give Pittsburgh the edge in a high-scoring affair, 38-35.
Panthers at Steelers
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
FOX, NFL Network