Well, here we go again. Another week, another unbeaten team on the road for the Green Bay Packers. In fact, the Packers (6-1) are the first team in NFL history to play back-to-back games on the road against teams with a 6-0 or better record (and only the third team to do it in consecutive games, regardless of venue).
Carolina (7-0) represents a different challenge for the Packers. While Denver has a lot of playmakers, the Panthers are getting an MVP-type performance out of quarterback Cam Newton but don't really have any other offensive weapons.
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Defensively, the Panthers probably aren't as strong as the Broncos, who might have the best unit in the NFL, but they aren't too far off.
Obviously the Packers need to play better than they did last Sunday -- I mean, c'mon -- but they'll really need to limit the mistakes against a tough Carolina team. Despite all that -- a 7-0 Panthers team, the Packers getting humbled last week and going on the road -- Green Bay is actually a three-point favorite.
A closer look at Sunday's matchup:
3 THINGS TO WATCH
-- The first quarter might be a feeling-out process. The defenses from both teams have excelled in the first 15 minutes. Green Bay comes into this game allowing just 2.3 points per game in the first quarter, which is great. Of course, Carolina are even better, allowing 2.1 points in the opening salvo.
-- Cam Newton's statistics might not "wow" you, but his play will. Newton is completing just 52.percent of his passes and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 11:8, but the Carolina quarterback is a threat every time the ball is snapped (not to mention is 6-3 when he completes less than 50 percent of his passes). He has the arm strength to make great passes even when off-balance and look out for zone-read runs (Newton has 286 yards rushing -- just 12 fewer yards than Packers leading rusher Eddie Lacy -- on 64 carries). Down by the goal line, Carolina is extremely dangerous with the unpredictability of Newton causing defenses fits.
-- Usually the team that has a better turnover ratio in a game wins and Carolina has been a bit turnover-prone this year. If Green Bay can keep up that trend and capitalize with points, that'd go a long way in handing the Panthers their first loss. Carolina has 11 turnovers on the season but eight in its last three games. The Packers have turned the ball over only four times this season -- and three came in one game. (We should note the Panthers have won two games this year when it has turned the ball over more than their opponent.)
2 THINGS TO REMEMBER
-- Yes, Green Bay is coming off a loss in which it played, well, horrible seems like a good adjective. But in the past, the Packers have shown to be a resilient team having won its last six games coming after a loss. Green Bay hasn't lost back-to-back games since games 9-10 of the 2013 regular season (Aaron Rodgers hasn't lost consecutive games since October 2010). And while these aren't the exact same teams which met last year, Rodgers did have a 154.5 passer rating while completing 19 of 22 passes in last season's win over the Panthers.
-- For all the talk of the quarterbacks, the running backs might be the pivotal players. Carolina, led by James Stewart (505 yards) has rushed for over 100 yards in 18 straight games. Green Bay's rushing attack has been inconsistent, but in the last four games Carolina has allowed 141, 115, 177 and 136 rushing yards.
1 KEY MATCHUP
Clay Matthews vs. Cam Newton
We're going with the assumption that it won't be Matthews covering tight end Greg Olsen, who is Carolina's top pass-catcher (he has 15 more targets and 13 more receptions than Ted Ginn, who leads all Panthers wide receivers in those categories). Instead, we can see the versatile linebacker being a spy on Newton, trying to keep him honest and avoid those big gains off zone-reads. Of course, Matthews was hobbled against Denver but appeared to be OK at practice this week. The Packers will need him at full health.
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