The Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers meet in a Week 2 NFL clash. The Packers are coming off a thrilling 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the season opener while the Panthers watched Cam Newton have a terrific first start in a 28-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
When: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. EDT
Listen: Packers—WIXX (101.1 FM) and WTAQ (1360 AM); Panthers— WCMC (99.9 FM) and WBT (1110 AM); Sirius Satellite Radio—Packers XM 94 (Internet 873), Panthers XM 117 (Internet 874)
Live Streaming Audio: NFL.com Audio Pass ($29.99 for year, $27.99 team specific, $9.99 a month)
Betting Line: Panthers +10
What's at Stake?
The Packers will have to deal with a tough division and don't want to fall behind a game early. Both the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions had solid Week 1 performances, making the NFC North a three-team race, at least for now.
Aaron Rodgers was brilliant from the first possession and James Starks was the more effective running back with a touchdown and averaging nearly five yards per carry. The emergence of Randall Cobb makes an already deep receiving core more explosive.
The concern for Green Bay will be on defense. Granted they were going up one of the league's best offenses in New Orleans, but Clay Matthews didn't record a sack and the unit allowed the Saints to convert on 64 percent of third down attempts.
For the Panthers, there's a little less at stake in short-term picture. Even though Carolina won't be contending for the playoffs this season, Newton's performance proved there is hope for the future. The resurgence of Steve Smith, who was once one of the league's biggest deep threats, was also promising.
DeAngelo Williams was signed to a big extension in the offseason but failed to find any running room. He gained just 30 yards on 12 carries and didn't have a single rush over eight yards. Backup Jonathan Stewart didn't fare much better, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Mike Goodson get a few carries.
For the Panthers to succeed, the pass defense will need to improve. Chris Gamble did a great job shadowing Larry Fitzgerald, but the rest of the secondary failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Charles Johnson, who is trying to live up to a $76 million extension, picked up a sack.
Packers Injury Report
Questionable: DB Tramon Williams (shoulder), DL Mike Neal (knee), LB Vic So'oto (back)
Panthers Injury Report
Out: LB Jon Beason, WR Kealoha Pilares (ankle), DB Brandon Hogan (knee)
Fantasy: Start 'Em, Sit 'Em and Sleeper
Start 'Em: RB James Starks – Packers
An unheralded rookie out of Buffalo for most of last season, Starks emerged during the playoffs and has worked himself into a time share with Ryan Grant. Thanks to bulking up during the lockout, Starks will probably get more carries near the goal line, making him worthy of a fantasy play.
Prediction: 15 carries for 65 yards and a TD
Sit 'Em: WR Randall Cobb – Packers
Cobb has a fantastic performance in front of a huge television audience and became a hot fantasy commodity. The problem is that he only had two catches. You can't count on another kickoff return touchdown, and with so few targets the bust potential is high.
Prediction: three catches for 43 yards
Sleeper: TE Greg Olsen – Panthers
The Packers will have Charles Woodson following Steve Smith wherever he goes after his huge Week 1 performance. That means somebody else will have to step up and become Newton's main target. With the Panthers likely playing from behind, tight end Greg Olsen should get a lot of looks.
Prediction: six catches for 85 yards and a TD
What They're Saying
Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discusses the Packers division and how they aren't likely to run away with it like some predicted in the preseason.
And from what he saw in his NFC North counterparts, McCarthy was impressed. The season is only 1 week old. But based on first impressions alone, it appears the Green Bay Packers will indeed have some company in the division.
It's far too premature to categorize who's phony and who's for real. But both the Lions and Bears may have nixed the notion that the Packers would simply waltz through the NFC North unscathed.
As teams learn every season, games are played on the field, not in the media. The Packers should know they'll have to keep their intensity level up all season in what's shaping up to be a tough division.
Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer plays a “Panthers by the numbers” game, which includes several interesting tidbits about Carolina's Week 1 loss to Arizona.
1.9 – I had this in my column today focusing on Cam Mania, but 1.9 was the average number of pass plays of 20 yards or more the Panthers had per game in 2010. They had eight 20-yard plus pass plays Sunday.
It will be important for Panthers fans to stick with Newton when he goes through the inevitable rough patches during the season. He illustrated how much talent he has, but don't forget he's still a rookie.
Packers Player to Watch: TE Jermichael Finley
Finley was bothered by an ankle injury heading into the opener and finished the game with just three catches. It's unclear how much the ailment hindered his performance against the Saints, but he should be fully recovered after more than a week off and could have a big game.
Panthers Player to Watch: QB Cam Newton
Who else? Newton passed for more than 400 yards in his first NFL game and showed every bit of potential that the Panthers expected when selecting him first overall. While he'll come back down to earth this week, he's the main reason Carolina fans should be excited for this game.
Key Matchup: Steve Smith vs Charles Woodson
Smith had his biggest game in four years last week and looked to have his game-changing burst back. The Packers will do their best to contain him, likely with Woodson on him all game with safety help over the top. Like Newton, Smith won't be able to approach his Week 1 numbers.
On the Hot Seat: RB Ryan Grant – Packers
Even though Grant is still listed as the starting running back on the Packers depth chart, Starks received more carries and found the end zone against the Saints. Grant will need to outshine his counterpart this week if the plans on maintaining at least half of the backfield duties.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers 31 Carolina Panthers 20