Scott Fowler

Steve Smith will be entertaining, but trenches will decide Carolina-Baltimore

Depending on which side of the fairy tale you are rooting for, Baltimore wide receiver Steve Smith will either catch 10 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns Sunday or he will get shut out entirely.

The truth is out there, somewhere in the middle. I expect Smith to make a few big plays Sunday, and I bet the Ravens will throw him a flanker screen sometime in the first series or two to make sure he gets into the game quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if he scores once and does something entertaining that draws a 15-yard flag in the end zone.

But ultimately this game is going to be decided in the trenches, where Carolina lost the Pittsburgh game badly and where it absolutely has to improve in terms of running the ball and stopping the run Sunday. The Panthers absolutely have to close the gap between what they are rushing for this year (72 yards per game) and what they ran for last year (127).

•  Both teams have been very reluctant to discuss their obvious similarity besides No. 89 this week. The Ravens and Panthers have taken turns at the epicenter of the NFL’s domestic violence earthquake. And both teams have lost one of their best players – Ray Rice for Baltimore and Greg Hardy for Carolina – because of nasty off-field events.

•  If Carolina is going to win Sunday, linebacker Luke Kuechly is going to need to make at least one game-changing play. I thought the Pittsburgh game was one of the worst he has ever played for the Panthers.

•  After correctly picking the Panthers in the first two games of the season, I botched it last week just like Carolina did and incorrectly chose Carolina to beat the Steelers. A Panthers win on the road over a playoff-bound Baltimore team that blasted the Steelers by 20 points is a tough sell for me, and ultimately I’m not buying. My prediction: Baltimore 23, Carolina 14.