The Carolina Panthers (7-0) standout as the NFC’s lone undefeated squad, but even after Monday night’s arduous overtime victory in the rain they stand as home underdogs against the Green Bay Packers (6-1) in Week 9’s Sunday afternoon match up at Bank of American Stadium.
Despite their unblemished record and Cam Newton’s ability to take over games in the fourth quarter, the Panthers are considered the weakest of the NFL’s four undefeated squads but could pad their lead for home-field advantage throughout the postseason by trumping quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the wounded Packers.
Now in his fifth season, Newton’s guided Carolina to the best start in franchise history with incredible displays late in games this year. He’s posted a 105.2 passer rating by completing 59.6 percent of his attempts for 363 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and Newton’s rating jumps even higher to 117.2 when the score’s within a touchdown in the final stanza.
With odds makers pegging the critical NFC game to come down to less than a field goal, Carolina will certainly need Newton to continue his fourth quarterback magic against Green Bay.
The 26-year-old Newton fired off two touchdowns, including an eight-yard strike to receiver Corey Brown with 10:44 left in the final period to claim a 23-6 lead over Indianapolis in Week 8, but the Panthers defense coughed up the lead and Newton needed two more drives that lead to field goals to pull off the 29-26 overtime win.
It was the closest margin of victory and first overtime for the Panthers this season, and served as reason enough to believe the squad can pull off a win without the defense playing well.
The fourth-quarter meltdown aside, Carolina still owns one of the NFL’s more dominant defenses. The Panthers are ninth in total defense, allowing 342.3 total yards per game, and fifth against the pass with opposing quarterbacks netting a league-best 64.5 rating and chucking 12 interceptions on the year.
But the Panthers will need to quickly forget their late Monday night lapse with Rodgers coming to town after posting one of the worst starts of his illustrious career.
Green Bay was dealt its first loss of the season and dropped from the NFL’s undefeated ranks when Denver held Rodgers to 77 passing yards and no touchdowns in the 29-10 loss. Facing the league’s best defense, the former MVP came up with the third-worst passing yardage total of his career and failed to throw a touchdown for just the 10 th time in 110 starts.
Still, Rodgers has traditionally lit up Carolina. In three games he’s completed 69 percent of his passes for 861 yards and eight touchdowns to one interception for a 119.8 passer rating and two victories. Last year Rodgers threw three touchdowns in a 38-17 home rout of Carolina.
With Newton showing his mettle as a clutch performer, and Rodgers highly likely to return to form, the battle could come down to the supporting cast.
As of now, the Packers have the edge in the receiving corps and Carolina the backfield. Green Bay called on veteran James Jones for 22 receptions for 426 yards and six scores, with Randall Cobb has 36 more catches for 377 yards and four scores in the league’s 10th highest-scoring offense.
The Panthers have also played to their strengths on the ground and lead the NFL with 144 rushing yards per game and eight total touchdowns, led by veteran Jonathan Stewart’s 505 yards and three scores and Newton’s 286 yards and four trips to the end zone.
Stopping the run has plagued Green Bay’s defense throughout the season, and Carolina could exploit the weakness and keep Rodgers off the field for long stretches. The Packers are tied for No. 25 in the NFL with 124.4 rushing yards allowed per game, and opposing rushers are gaining 4.7 yards per carry.
Betting Odds: Green Bay -2.5 points
Over/Under: 46.5 points
Prediction: Carolina over Green Bay, 33-24