Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers: Complete Week 7 Preview for Carolina

Charles Edwards@@CEdwards80Contributor IOctober 17, 2014

Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers: Complete Week 7 Preview for Carolina

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Another week, another meeting with a division leader for the Carolina Panthers (3-2-1). This time it will be against an opponent from the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers (4-2) have been a formidable team for the past few seasons, their five straight playoff appearances being proof of that. For Carolina, Green Bay has been a difficult outing. The Pack own the all-time series 8-4, including postseason play.

    The Panthers will be looking for a win this weekend after ending last week's contest with a tie. Despite having issues with the health of the running backs and the defense giving up a lot of points, Carolina should feel a bit optimistic after seeing Cam Newton return to form last week. His performance, along with the progression of rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, has presented fans a reason to think positively the rest of the way.

    What can be expected from the Panthers this week?

    The following slides will discuss many facets of this week's game, including news, matchups and the injury report. Everything you need to know about Sunday's game can be found in Carolina's Week 7 game preview.

Carolina Panthers Week 6 Recap

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Last week's 37-37 score at Cincinnati was the first tie in Carolina franchise history. While Panthers fans would have preferred a victory, it might as well have been one considering the Bengals had an opportunity to win the game on a last-second field goal. However, Mike Nugent was wide on his kick and it left both teams deadlocked at the end of overtime.

    One bright spot to take away from this game was the return of Cam Newton, who had played very conservatively in his first four games. Last week, he was turned loose and was the driving force behind the offense. His only mistake in that game was an interception due to overthrowing Kelvin Benjamin. Newton has always been a dangerous player, but he has played very well this season and has not only looked better this season, he has played a lot smarter, too.

    Of course, with the good there is the bad and that pertains to the defense.

    The Carolina defense has not looked that good in recent weeks, especially against AFC opponents. The defense for the Panthers has given up at least 37 points in three of its last four games. That doesn't bode well for a team trying to retain its division crown. While the Panthers gave up a lot of points to the Bengals last week, there were some good moments on defense and one has to concede that there were some key stops that ensured the game did not result in a loss for Carolina.

News and Notes

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Welcome Back Robert Lester and Chris Scott

    Carolina safety Robert Lester was left off the roster and assigned to the practice squad when the preseason ended last August. The Panthers need help in the secondary and on special teams, so bringing back Lester is a good move. He started four games last year and had three interceptions. If he puts on the kind of performance he showed last season, the Panthers should be in good shape.

    Additionally, Carolina signed offensive guard Chris Scott to its roster after seeing Amini Silatolu go down with a calf injury. Like Lester, Scott has starting experience and could be a solid addition to his unit.

    Too Many Points Being Given up by Defense

    Last season, Carolina allowed only 241 points to opposing teams. This year, the Panthers' defense has given up 157 points. At their current pace, Carolina could give up 419 points when the season is over. If that happens, it will mark the second most points given up by the defense during Ron Rivera's time as head coach. The defense could be hindered by the losses of Greg Hardy and Frank Alexander, but it's not only the defensive front that has been underperforming. The secondary has been picked apart this year and the run defense has been awful. The Panthers rank 27th in the league in stopping the run and it has shown. The current stretch of games will test the Carolina defense. If improvements can't be made, things may go south quickly.

    Kelvin Benjamin Suffers Concussion

    This will make an appearance in the injury report, but it needs to be mentioned here. Kelvin Benjamin is the team's best wide receiver and has proven to be a valuable target for Cam Newton. According to Bleacher Report's Nate Loop, Benjamin missed practice due to a concussion and his status for Sunday is up in the air. While the contributions of Greg Olsen have been good for Newton and the offense, if Benjamin is unable to go, he will deprive the team of a tall, rangy receiver who has been an asset inside opponents' territory. The injury report on the next slide will feature more updates regarding Benjamin's status for Sunday.

Injury Report

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press
    Player/PositionInjuryStatus
    Kelvin Benjamin, WRConcussionQuestionable
    Bene Benwikere, CBAnkleDoubtful
    Chase Blackburn, OLBKneeDoubtful
    Thomas Davis, OLBNFIProbable
    Dwan Edwards, DTNFIProbable
    Roman Haper, SNFIProbable
    Josh Norman, CBConcussionProbable
    Greg Olsen, TEAnkleProbable
    Darrin Reaves, RBCalfQuestionable
    Amini Silatolu, OGCalfOut
    Jonathan Stewart, RBKneeProbable
    Fozzy Whittaker, RBThighOut
    DeAngelo Williams, RBAnkleOut

    Sources: Panthers.com

    UPDATE for October 17th

    The good news is Kelvin Benjamin hasn't been ruled out. It's still difficult to determine if he will suit up on Sunday and could be a game day decision. 

    As for those who will most likely be sitting out this weekend; Bene Benwikere, Chase Blackburn, Amini Silatolu, Fozzy Whittaker and DeAngelo Williams. It would be nice to see the running backs get healthy, but that may just be a pipe dream at this point in time. However, Jonathan Stewart looks to be returning to action after be upgraded to probable.

    End of Update

    At best, Kelvin Benjamin's status could be questionable for Sunday's game as he failed to participate in practice Wednesday or Thursday. While losing much of the running back corps, the loss of the team's primary receiver could be a huge blow to the Carolina offense. However, the Panthers have proven resilient when pushed back against the wall. Their record is proof of that.

    Players who were able to practice this week included Thomas Davis, Dwan Edwards, Roman Harper, Josh Norman, Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart. Everyone else has yet to participate.

    Check back later to find the status of each player for Sunday's game.

X-Factors and Matchups to Watch

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Carolina Secondary vs. Aaron Rodgers

    Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league today and he is surrounded by some talented receivers. It will be up to the Carolina secondary to shut those receivers down and prevent Rodgers from picking them apart. It won't be easy as Rodgers has thrown for 1,419 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. It doesn't help Carolina that Rodgers will be playing in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field.

    The Panthers' defensive backfield has proven it can deny the league's top receivers and quarterbacks, but lately they have not done a very good job of it. Carolina's pass rush could help a lot in this area, but if Rodgers gets into a groove he will have a big day.

    Antoine Cason vs. Jordy Nelson

    While the secondary will need to focus on taking out Aaron Rodgers' ability to move the football, they will have to do the same with his receivers. This is where Antoine Cason comes into play. Cason will have to keep tabs on Green Bay's best receiver in Jordy Nelson. He has caught 43 passes this season for 632 yards and five touchdowns. While any receiver on the Packers offense is capable of making big plays, Nelson is the go-to guy Rodgers likes to look for down the field.

    Carolina Running Game vs. Green Bay Rush Defense

    A reason why the Panthers could have a chance against the Pack this week stems from a resurgent Cam Newton and the fact that the Packers are dead last in stopping the run. While it won't be solely on Newton's shoulders to generate a ground attack, the inability of Green Bay to stop opponents from running the ball could allow for a good game from the Carolina running backs.

    If the same Cam Newton appears on Sunday, the Packers may have a tough time getting the Carolina offense off the field. That will allow for a lot of read-option plays and could allow the secondary to creep in, freeing up the receivers. Newton will be a valuable part of the offense next week, which means he is the Panthers' X-factor.

    Carolina X-Factor of the Week: Cam Newton

    Newton will need to do it all this week to give Carolina a win at Lambeau Field. He has been a consistent passer this season and while he has been conservative in his first few games running the ball, he didn't hold back last week. The same will be expected in Week 7 as well. Newton could be without Kelvin Benjamin, but he has shown that he can spread the ball around. Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are suitable replacements in the rookie's absence. Additionally, the presence of Greg Olsen will help a lot, but Newton needs to be the backbone of the offense this weekend.

Prediction

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    Rick Havner/Associated Press

    Green Bay could realistically blow the Carolina Panthers out of the water, especially if the Carolina defense fails to make any stops. However, the Panthers will not be an easy out. Cam Newton could have another big game despite the Packers' ability to stop the passing game (they rank fifth in that department).

    However, the Packers' wins have come against teams with quarterbacks who are not exactly among the league's elite. Geno Smith, Jay Cutler, Christian Ponder and Ryan Tannehill were under center for the teams Green Bay defeated. The losses suffered by the Pack have come courtesy of Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford.

    That being said, the Panthers should not be considered an easy win.

    Carolina needs its defense to step up this weekend, otherwise a lot of points will be scored and loss No. 3 will be tacked onto their season record. Offensively, the pieces are there, but the possibility of losing Kelvin Benjamin could be an issue, as will be the uncertainty of the offensive line's performance. 

    The Panthers will drop this one, but much like the week before it will be a shootout. Unlike last week, there will be no tie when this game is over.

    Prediction

    Green Bay 38, Carolina 35

    Player, team and game information courtesy of Panthers.com, ESPN.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.