The running Carolina Panthers just completed a major NFL Monday Night Football victory over the competitive Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for sole possession of first place in the NFC South division. Carolina hosts the pass-happy Denver Broncos this week in a battle of first place teams. Next week, the Panthers travel to New Jersey to square off versus the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants.
Therefore, for the Panthers, is the Broncos' match-up a perfect trap game? Perhaps, or maybe not. Of direct concern to Carolina is the breakdown of pass coverage, especially on deep pass plays. Questions persist about the problems in coverage particularly with cornerback Ken Lucas, who allowed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant, and nickel back Richard Marshall, who has struggled in recent weeks. In two games, the Panthers have allowed seven plays of 20 yards or more.
The Panthers should not let the issues in the passing game snowball into an avalanche. Basically, the defensive backs need to cover and communicate better. Carolina better fix this soon. The Panthers play three very good passing teams to close the season, beginning with the Denver Broncos at home Sunday and finishing with road games against the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints.
Jay Cutler has thrown for 3,679 yards and 23 touchdowns, leading the Broncos' third-ranked passing game. He has attempted 489 passes this season, more than any quarterback in the league except Kurt Warner and Drew Brees. Cutler is expected to be throwing early and often again Sunday, as the Broncos have little in the way of a running game.
The 10-3 Panthers have the opportunity to go undefeated at home for the first time since 1996. Gaining home field advantage throughout the conference portion of the playoffs as a reachable goal. Should Carolina defeat Denver, it would set up a potentially climatic showdown with the New York Giants at the Meadowlands next week, with the Panthers attempting to take the most important top NFC seed heading into the postseason.
The Broncos have won the only two meetings with the Panthers, winning a 20-17 decision in 2004 and a 34-0 shutout in 1997. Both of those games took place in Denver, making Sunday's trip to Charlotte Denver's first trip to the Queen City.
The Silver Fox Forecast: Carolina 30, Denver 27
Sources: Bleacher Report, Rocky Mountain News, The Charlotte Observer
Quote of the Day
"Happiness is not a reward—it is a consequence. Suffering is not a punishment—it is a result." —Robert Green Ingersoll