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THE BIG PICTURE

Let's be clear: It's way too early to be talking about playoffs. But ... Seattle is 3-3. New Orleans is 2-4. Chicago is 3-4.

All were in the preseason Super Bowl conversation. Now, they have a lot of ground to make up. For the Seahawks and Saints, that's especially crucial because both are much stronger at home than on the road and would benefit greatly from homefield advantage.

The guess here is that the NFC North will come down to the final week of the regular season when the Packers host the Lions.

THUMBS UP

Julius Peppers grew up in North Carolina, played his college football at the University of North Carolina and played for the Panthers from 2002-09.

He might not get a warm reception the next time he visits home. The 13-year veteran had a remarkable second half against his former team, collecting five tackles, including 11/2 sacks (for a loss of 91/2 yards), two quarterback hits and one tackle for loss.

His first tackle — combined with Letroy Guion — was on fourth-and-1 and forced the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs to open the second half. But his impact was felt beyond the scorebook.

On one particular play, Peppers was pass rushing from the left side with an inside move, but when elusive quarterback Cam Newton left the pocket, Peppers spun back around outside to contain Newton and force him to throw away the ball.

Great veteran awareness.

THUMBS DOWN

Good luck trying to find anything to be critical of out of Sunday's dominating victory. But one area that was lacking was the play of the tight ends.

Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers missed blocks that led to sacks of Aaron Rodgers, and neither had an impact catching the ball.

TURNING POINT

Carolina made a big mistake by giving the ball to Green Bay's offense to start the game. The Panthers won the toss but deferred and chose to get the ball at the start of the second half. By then, the game was over.

The only chance Carolina had to win this game was to get up early, use Cam Newton's read-option ability to keep Green Bay's defense off balance and keep the Packers' offense off the field as much as possible.

By giving the Packers the ball first, the Panthers were doomed before the kickoff.

DID YOU NOTICE?

The Panthers continually killed themselves with penalties. Their nine penalties cost them 70 yards and allowed three Green Bay first downs. At one point in the first half, Carolina had eight penalties to one for Green Bay.

Kimberly native A.J. Klein started at outside linebacker for the injured Chase Blackburn and had three tackles, including two for losses. The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder is in his second year out of Iowa State.

The Packers entered sixth in the NFL in converting third downs at 45.8 percent, while the Panthers entered the game 31st in the NFL in allowing third-down conversions at 50 percent. It seemed as though the Panthers' defense never would be able to get off the field. As it turned out, the Packers converted a mere 36 percent (4 of 11).

The Packers have started 3-0 at home in consecutive seasons four times (1965-66, 1996-97, 2001-02 and 2013-14) since 1960. They also are an NFL-best 21-5 in October games since 2008. They have won 10 in a row and 16 of their past 17 October games.

RANTS AND RAVES

RAVE: On Carolina's second possession, the Packers went to a four-man front that featured, from left to right, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Mike Neal. On third-and-5, Perry broke though for a 12-yard sack of quarterback Cam Newton. "It's our NASCAR package," coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. "It gets all four of our elephant types on the field at the same time. Yeah, it's been very productive." They used it several times later in the game, sometimes changing where each lined up.

RANT: It was sort of academic, but McCarthy made a questionable decision to challenge a third-quarter call. Carolina's Philly Brown returned a punt 12 yards before being tackled by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Brown lost the ball but the officials ruled that he was down by contact before the ball came loose. There was only 5:05 left in the third quarter, the Packers were up 35-3 and replays appeared to back up the ruling on the field. McCarthy used all of the TV timeout to get feedback before throwing the red flag. The official's review upheld the play.

RAVE: The Packers' fourth touchdown drive, which ate up a chunk of the second quarter, was their longest by yardage of the season. The nine-play, 94-yard possession was a thing of beauty and featured a strong mix of run and pass. The big play was a 47-yard pass and catch from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb in which Rodgers rolled right and threw a short pass to Cobb, who made a nice initial move to avoid three tacklers. Eddie Lacy added four carries for 23 yards and Rodgers had a 16-yard scramble after Jordy Nelson broke into end zone and took defenders with him. On the touchdown, Rodgers rolled right, bought some time and hit Cobb in the end zone for a 3-yard score.

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