It took some time, but the Green Bay Packers have found their stride and maintain a three-game winning streak ahead of Sunday’s visit from the Carolina Panthers.
After injuries to the offensive line left quarterback Aaron Rodgers struggling to guide the attack, the Packers have outscored opponents 107 to 41 over the last three weeks, with Rodgers throwing three or more touchdowns to boot.
With defenses focused on slowing Green Bay running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks, Rodgers has largely relied on NFL leading-receiver Jordy Nelson, and receiver Randall Cobb has exploded for seven touchdown catches, one below his career-high for the season.
Nelson is tops in the NFL with 632 receiving yards and five scores, making up for Lacy’s lack of production. The second-year back was expected to build on his stellar 1,000-yard rookie campaign, but has been held to 48 or fewer yards in five of the Packers six games.
If it weren’t for their Week 3 road loss to Detroit, when the o-line was still adjusting to new additions like rookie center Corey Linsley, the 4-2 Packers would be in sole possession of the NFC North. Instead they’re right behind Detroit in second, and will have to keep pace until they close the regular season in Week 17 at Lambeau.
The injury bug also bit the Panthers early, specifically to their running backs. Usually one of the strongest rushing offenses in the NFL, Carolina has plummeted to 28th overall with injuries to DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.
That’s once again put the entire offensive load on quarterback Cam Newton. After the starting the season with a rib injury, the initial plan seemed to be to limit Newton’s carries and let him focus on the passing game more. Instead, in Week 6 Newton rushed a career-high 17 times for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Newton also passed for 284 yards two touchdowns, and the Panthers managed to force overtime against Cincinnati, only to finish with the fourth tie game since 2008. With every other squad in the NFC South at two wins or less, it’s unclear right now if the tie will hurt the 3-2-1 Panthers' chances of repeating as division champion.
Ending at 37-37, it was an explosive game with 944 total offensive yards between the two squads. Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin pulled in his fourth touchdown of the year, and the always reliable tight end Greg Olsen his fifth. The duo’s helped Newton stem the tide of injuries in his backfield, but its the Panthers defense that needs some improvement.
Last year the Panthers were one of the premier defenses in the league, ranking No. 2 overall in total defense and tops in sacks with 60. Instead Carolina’s dropped to 26th overall and have sorely missed suspended defensive end Greg Hardy.
In the last four games since Hardy was sat down for domestic violence charges, the Panthers have let up 37 or more points in three games. And the 513 yards they surrendered to Cincinnati was the second most in team history.
Start Time: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
TV Channel: FOX
Betting Odds: Green Bay -7
Over/Under: 49 points
Prediction: Green Bay 30, Carolina 24