Another Key NFC Game for the Panthers

Sharon Thorsland
December 15, 2017 - 10:40 am

USA Today Images

It's another huge NFC match up for the Panthers this week, as they welcome the Green Bay Packers to Bank of America stadium on Sunday. You can hear the game in WBT, kick-off is set for 1:00.

It's been a rough season for the Packers, who are 7-6 on the season but got a big boost this week with the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The two-time MVP is expected to see his first action Sunday since breaking his collarbone in week six. The Packers kept their slim playoff chances alive with an overtime win over Cleveland last week, while the Panthers are also working to stay in the playoff picture. They picked up a key victory over the Vikings last week to improve to 9-4 on the year.

The Packers started the season 4-1 with Rodgers in the lineup but have lost four of their last seven with backup Brett Hundley under center.

The offense hasn't been able to get much going - they rank 25th in the league in total offense and are 24th in passing yards per game. But the Panthers expect that to change with Rodgers in the game.

“Obviously Aaron is a great player,” said defensive end Julius Peppers. “He takes the team to another level when he's out there. We'll be ready, though.”

Rodgers has a trio of outstanding receivers in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams, who leads the team with 69 catches and has nine touchdowns. The 6-3 Nelson has six scores, while Cobb has 502 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But getting the ball to his play makers could be difficult for Rodgers – the Panther defense ranks 7th in the NFL against the pass and gets after the quarterback with 40 sacks, that's 3rd in the league. Look for the Packers to establish the run early. They're picking up 107 yards per game behind the rookie tandem of Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. With starter Ty Montgomery on IR, the pair has combined for 774 yards and eight touchdowns. 

The Packer defense has also struggled this season, they rank in the bottom half of the league in just about every category, including 26th in total defense and 30th in 3rd down efficiency. But they're aggressive - their 22 takeaways ranks 6th in the league. The Packers run a 3-4 scheme, led by All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews, he leads the team with 7 and 1/2 sacks. Inside backer Blake Martinez leads the team in tackles. The front line features Pro Bowler Mike Daniels at defensive tackle. They'll try to slow down the Panthers run game, which really got going last week against the Vikings last week. The Packers secondary is anchored by All-Pro safety Ha-ha Clinton-Dix, he has three interceptions and teams with 8-year veteran Morgan Burnett. Rookie Josh Jones rotates in - the former Wolfpack standout has two sacks and an interception. Cornerback Damarious Randall leads the team with four interceptions, one of them returned for a touchdown. 

No one needs to remind the Panthers how big this game is. In the loaded NFC, this is a game they need to win to stay in contention for the playoffs. “It's an important game for us,” said Captain Munnerlyn. “If we want to get to the ultimate goal, and that's a Super Bowl, it starts on Sunday.”

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