Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers (6-6) game at Cleveland (4-7-1):
1. Baker Mayfield problematic for Panthers
Like Tampa Bay did effectively with quarterback Jameis Winston last week, the Browns might try to loosen up the Panthers’ defensive front with some quarterback runs. Mayfield has also gotten fairly hot in the past few weeks, so I’d predict he’s successful in the first half with 45 rushing yards and two passing touchdowns in that time. Carolina will adjust in the second half to contain him more effectively.
2. Lots and lots of Christian McCaffrey
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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has a sore shoulder and is going up against an aggressive Cleveland front. So he’ll need to favor shorter passes, and he’ll need to get the ball out quick. Enter McCaffrey, who leads the team in receptions with 80.
The Panthers will also try to run the ball to alleviate Newton’s shoulder, so I predict that McCaffrey finishes the game with 25 touches - 12 catches and 13 carries.
3. Explosive plays?
The Panthers’ struggling secondary got a wakeup call this week with the firing of secondary/cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura and the realignment of the defensive staff.
This will be the first game in the last four that Carolina does not allow a passing touchdown of 19-plus yards.
4. Will Ron Rivera call an aggressive game?
Speaking of the secondary, I’m not certain Rivera trusts his cornerbacks, playing so inconsistently, to be on an island too often against Cleveland. That means he might not call as aggressive a first half as some might expect — when you blitz, you often leave cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups.
I do think he’ll dial up a couple of creative situational blitzes with safety Mike Adams and linebacker Shaq Thompson.
5. Panthers break the slump, 21-14.
C’mon, they can’t lose to Cleveland ...
Panthers at Browns
FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
Sunday, 1 p.m.