The Panthers lost a close one to the Eagles last Thursday, 28-23. They were first to find the endzone, with Cam Newton taking it in himself on a very well-designed option play, but they couldn’t contain the Eagles offense for long, and either side of half time Zach Ertz caught a touchdown to put the lead into Philadelphia’s hands, one they would not relinquish as the Panthers struggled in the red zone to make consistent conversions.
Chicago won an overtime nail-biter against an AFC North side for the second time this season as they took down the Ravens 27-24 in Baltimore. The Bears leaned heavily on Jordan Howard all game. The second-year back has a massive 36 carries for 167 yards to pace the offense, while Mitchell Trubisky completed just 50% of his passes for 113 yards and rookie Tarik Cohen threw a touchdown pass as well.
Find a ground game
The Panther running game disappeared against Philadelphia last week, and Ron Rivera has had 10 days to try and find it again. Their running backs managed just one yard on 13 carries, with Cam Newton having to shoulder the load on the ground in order to stop the offense completely capitulating. Chicago’s run defense is no pushover, sitting middle of the pack in yards per carry (16th, 4.0) and yards per game (15th, 104.3), but they aren’t nearly as talented as Philadelphia’s defense.
Carolina need to get Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey going if they want to maintain a balanced offense this season.
Can’t break Howard
Conversely, the Bears need to find some way to get their passing attack moving. In Trubisky’s two games so far he is 20-of-41 for 241 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. That’s not far off what you would expect from one game, so to get it across two is very disappointing. The Bears limitations at wide receiver are well known, but they have to find a way to get more out of Trubisky and the passing game because not only are they failing to properly evaluate their rookie quarterback as things stand but they are at risk of running Jordan Howard into the ground. They have given their lead back 56 touches in the last two games, which is not particularly sustainable.
The Panthers have started to open up their option trickery now that Cam’s shoulder is 100%, and with that comes a lot more responsibility placed on the contain work against the run and also in disciplined rush lanes from the Bears. They can’t afford to let Newton loose where he can convert third downs with his feet or let him have enough space on the backside to slash the defense on options.
Matchup to Watch: Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen vs Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly
The Bears best players are their tandem of running backs, and equally the Panthers best are the duo of linebackers who are built to stop them. Davis and Kuechly excel at covering ground and punishing ball carriers, while Howard and Cohen are great compliments for one another.
Interestingly, the Panthers are blitzing a lot more this year, and specifically bringing Davis around the corner, so it’s not just the ball carrying where these pairs will be clashing, but also in pass protection.
Fantasy Tip: Panthers D/ST
If I could, I’d get on the Panthers D this weekend. Not only have the Bears allowed scores on both punt and kickoff return already this season, but they will need to open up the offense, and Trubisky has already shown some of the gunslinging tendencies that suggest he could easily cough up the ball several times in a game.
Betting Tip: Panthers (-3)
I like the Panthers to get some balance offensively in this one and take advantage of a one-dimensional Bears team. Give the three.
Prediction: Panthers 34 – 20 Bears
Carolina need to get back to winning ways, and with Atlanta traveling to New England this weekend they have a chance to open up a good lead in the NFC South with a big win. The Bears have been feisty at home this season, but they have also appeared to be very beatable if a team can get out in front early.
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