Carolina vs. Kansas City: 10 Keys to the Game for the Panthers
The Chiefs are one of the few teams in the league that have a worse record than the Panthers, as they have only won a single game thus far.
The Panthers are coming off of their third victory of the season and will look to maintain that momentum at Arrowhead Stadium.
Each team will more than likely be picking within the top eight picks come April's draft, so this game could be viewed in terms of future draft position.
As currently composed, both the Panthers and Chiefs are a few pieces away from making a run at the playoffs.
While the postseason is not in the cards for either organization, that does not mean that this game is meaningless to the players, coaches and fanbases.
The Carolina Panthers are currently 10th in the NFC in terms of turnover differential, as they have broke even in that regard up to this point.
When the Panthers take care of the ball, they have the ability to compete against every team in the league. While the same could be said for the majority of other NFL teams, those teams do not employ Cam Newton.
Newton has accounted for 15 of the Panthers' 18 turnovers so far this season, so it's fair to say that any potential giveaways would come from Newton's mistakes.
The Panthers defense has generated 18 turnovers, with 10 of those takeaways coming via fumble recoveries.
Turnovers are the great equalizer in the NFL. If Carolina takes care of the ball against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, then they should win their second road game in as many weeks.
Panthers' Run Defense
The Carolina Panthers' run defense has been a major liability this season, as they currently rank 25th in the league.
That ranking is their worst of the season, which makes sense considering that Philadelphia Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown gashed them for 178 yards and two touchdowns in Week 12.
Making matters worse for the Panthers, ESPN has reported that defensive tackle Ron Edwards will miss the rest of the season due to a dislocated left elbow.
While the Kansas City Chiefs have had serious offensive issues, those problems have not been caused by their rushing attack.
The Chiefs are currently ranked fourth in rushing, as they have averaged 145.6 yards per game. Jamal Charles, who is KC's best back, is currently 72 yards away from reaching the thousand-yard mark for the season.
If everything goes as expected, then Charles will have a big day on Sunday against the Panthers' porous run defense.
Brad Nortman has been one of the league's most inefficient punters this season, as he currently ranks 29th in punting average.
Prior to the Carolina Panthers game against the Philadelphia Eagles, rookie kicker Justin Medlock was waived and replaced by Graham Gano.
If Nortman does not improve his effectiveness in terms of helping the team with field position, then they will find someone else that will.
The pass protection for the Carolina Panthers has not been great, as evidenced by the 28 sacks that they have surrendered through their first 11 games. The Panthers have allowed more sacks than 23 other NFL teams, which puts them in the bottom-third, in that respect.
While some of the blame could be placed on Cam Newton because he has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, the offensive line deserves the majority of the criticism.
The offensive line has struggled to overcome the loss of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, who is out for the season with a Lisfranc injury.
The loss of Kalil forced Geoff Hangartner to shift to the center position and allowed Jeff Byers to come off the bench and be the team's starting right guard.
The Panthers are still waiting for the line to come together as a cohesive unit, so hopefully this is the week that it happens.
Newton needs time to look downfield in order to be successful, so it will be on the offensive line to slow down Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, who are the Kansas City Chiefs' best pass rushers.
The starting quarterback being a key to a team's success isn't exactly a novel idea, but that does not mean that it holds less weight.
In the Carolina Panthers' three wins this season, Cam Newton has averaged 253 yards and a quarterback rating of 118.3. Another key factor in the wins is that Newton did not throw an interception in any of the victories.
In their eight losses, Newton's statistics have been much worse, as he has thrown 10 interceptions and compiled a rating of 73.1.
Newton's performance is the perfect barometer for the success of the Panthers as a whole, and his play will likely determine if the Kansas City Chiefs are within striking distance late in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers' entire offense runs through Cam, so when he is off, the team will struggle offensively.
Luckily, the Chiefs have struggled against the run, which should help Newton find a healthy rhythm.
Newton is poised to have a big game in Kansas City, so expect nothing less.
Dwayne Bowe is the best receiver that the Kansas City Chiefs have at their disposal, and they will look to utilize him as often as possible.
So far this season, Bowe has caught 53 passes for 667 yards and three touchdowns. While those numbers are very good, they would be even better if he had a decent quarterback throwing the ball his way.
Bowe has also been adept at moving the chains, as 37 of his receptions have led to first downs.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn will likely cover Bowe for the majority of the contest, which makes for an interesting matchup.
Bowe is 6'2" and 220 pounds, while Munnerlyn is just 5'8" and 180 pounds. That difference will be obvious on Sunday, so the Panthers better make sure to give Munnerlyn help in the red zone.
If the Panthers secondary can take away Bowe, then the Chiefs already anemic passing game will struggle even more.
Get Steve Smith Involved
Steve Smith has only found the end zone once this season and that is a major problem.
When the Carolina Panthers get Smith involved, it makes the lives of Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy much easier.
Smith is also dangerous whenever he catches the ball, so perhaps the Panthers could dial up quicker passes to Smith.
One of this season's bigger disappointments is that Smith and Cam Newton haven't picked up where they left off last season, as evidenced by Smith's diminished numbers.
Hopefully, Smith and Newton are able to find some of the last season's magic and connect for a couple of big plays against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Performances of Two Coaches on the Hot Seat
Ron Rivera and Romeo Crennel are both on the hot seat, and are among the favorites to lose their job once the season wraps up.
Each coach is in danger of losing their jobs for a reason, as part of their team's lack of success has been due to coaching mistakes.
With just one win, Crennel is likely on his way out of Kansas City no matter what happens the rest of the way.
Rivera may still have a chance to keep his job if the Panthers finish the season well, as a win this week would make them 4-8.
This game is certainly one of the prime candidates to supply the week's headscratching coaching decision.
When the Carolina Panthers front four is harassing opposing quarterbacks, they make the job much easier for the linebackers and secondary members behind them.
The Panthers are currently tied for 13th in the league in sacks, as they have taken down the opposing quarterback in the backfield 27 times.
Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are quickly becoming one of the league's better pass rushing duos, which is something that the Panthers can build upon moving forward.
The quarterback play that the Kansas City Chiefs have gotten this season have bordered on pathetic, which should give the Panthers pass rush confidence in this matchup.
If the front office can acquire a defensive tackle who can rush the passer from the interior during the offseason, then the Panthers will enter next season with one of the NFL's most disruptive defensive lines.
The Carolina Panthers signed Graham Gano to replace the released Justin Medlock with the hope that the Florida State alumni would bring consistency to the kicker position.
Things started off well for Gano, as he converted on a 40-yard field goal in his first attempt with the team.
After starting off on the right foot, Gano inexplicably missed an extra point attempt wide right. Fortunately for the Panthers, that blunder did not wind up hurting them later in the game.
Gano should treat the next six games as a tryout for next season, as he will have to prove to the front office that they don't need to bring in someone else during the upcoming offseason.