Packers vs. Panthers preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (7-2) vs. Carolina Panthers (5-3).
WHEN: 3:25 p.m. CT Sunday.
WHERE: Lambeau Field.
TV: Fox with Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 9-6.
LINE: Packers by 5½.
WEATHER: Mostly cloudy, high of 35 degrees.
SURFACE: SIS Grass.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur (7-2) vs. Carolina's Ron Rivera (79-63-1).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively conversation.
5 THINGS TO WATCH
1. MR. CHRISTIAN: If you don’t think Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is in rarified air this season, consider this: He and Hall of Famer Jim Brown are the only players in NFL history to record 150-plus scrimmage yards and a touchdown in six of their team's first eight games. He will be looking to add to some other remarkable numbers Sunday. McCaffrey is on pace for 2,488 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. The NFL record for yards is 2,509 (Chris Johnson, 2009) and for touchdowns is 23 (Randy Moss, 2007). McCaffrey has 55.2% of the team’s offensive touches and is on pace for 330 carries. Last year, he set the NFL record for receptions by a running back with 107 but is on pace for 84 this year. McCaffrey ranks first in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, second in rushing yards, first in rushing touchdowns and first in total touchdowns.
2. IN DEFENSE OF MCCAFFREY: You know the numbers, now how do you stop him? The answer is you can’t. You can only limit him. “They do such a good job of getting the ball to him in a variety of ways, very creative whether it’s through screens and sweeps and just the misdirection run game they do,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. Tampa Bay is the only team that has been able to slow him down, holding him to 37 yards rushing in their first meeting and 31 in the second. The Buccaneers loaded up the box to stop his running and put ultra-fast linebacker Lavonte David on him in the passing game. The Packers’ only linebacker who can run with McCaffrey is Oren Burks, and Pettine would have to show some trust in him that he hasn’t shown so far if he were to cover McCaffrey with a linebacker. If he goes with a safety at inside linebacker in his favored “dime” look, the Panthers might just run it 35 times.
3. YOUNG AT HEART: The Packers haven’t faced a lot of green quarterbacks this season. Everyone they have faced has started multiple games in previous years. The Panthers’ Kyle Allen is the first true young QB they will see this season. Allen, signed as an undrafted free agent last year, took over the starting job for injured Cam Newton in Week 3 and has gone 5-1, the only loss a 51-13 dud at San Francisco in which he threw three interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 29.9. “Some of the throws he makes, some of the reads that he makes, he’s really above his years,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Most quarterbacks that early aren’t able to get to their second or third reads and things like that. He’s able to do those things. He’s shown some good things.”
4. RUN IT UP: The Panthers probably don’t have as bad a run defense as they showed against the 49ers when they allowed 232 yards on 38 carries (6.1 average). They gave up six carries of 17 or more yards, including touchdowns of 19, 20, 41 and 48 yards, in a blowout loss. They rank 26th in run defense, but their numbers aren’t horrendous when you consider how good they’ve been against the pass. It’s far harder to pass on them given they lead the league in sacks and are second in interceptions. They have 14 sacks and eight interceptions in the last three weeks. The Packers can’t pass the ball unless they run it. “The big thing is going to be the run game,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “Get the run game going, stay in those manageable down and distances.” The Panthers run a 4-3 scheme and are bigger upfront than recent teams the Packers have played, so expect to see some runs to the outside.
5. CHILLY RECEPTION: This will be the first cold-weather game for both teams. Forecasts call for the high Sunday to be around 35 degrees and with a 3:25 p.m. start, it should drop below that as the game goes on. It might seem logical to think the Panthers would have a harder time adjusting, but the Packers are coming off a game in Los Angeles and haven’t played in wintry conditions. Over the last four weeks, the Packers have eight dropped passes, so the receivers will be tested. Coach Matt LaFleur took the team outside to do 11-on-11 work this week, but players won’t be wearing hoodies as most of them did in practice. “We’ve got to embrace that cold,” LaFleur said. “The only way you can do that is you’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to practice in it and get acclimated into it.”
The Packers need this victory in the worst way. Losing two straight is no way to go into the bye, especially with a showdown against the San Francisco 49ers coming up. If the defense can keep Kyle Allen from looking like Russell Wilson, they should be able to ride home-field advantage into the win column. Packers 21, Panthers 17
Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen present big matchup problems for a Packers defense that has struggled to stop the run and keep tight ends in check. But the guess here is the Packers will be highly motivated after last week’s debacle in Los Angeles and get a win before their bye. Packers 28, Panthers 21
The Packers have struggled to defend good running backs and tight ends this season. Enter Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen. This does not have the feel of a good matchup for the Packers. It’s a game they could definitely lose, but they’re at home in the cold against a warm-weather team. The guess here is they eke one out, winning another close game in a season full of them. Packers 28, Panthers 27
It’s one thing to lose, but another to lose the way the Packers did in L.A. I expect them to have a sharper performance and take advantage of a young opposing quarterback. Packers 28, Panthers 24
This is going to be a close one. The Packers are coming off of a brutal loss on the road in Los Angeles. But after last week’s breakdown in all three phases, I think the Packers will put an emphasis on playing complementary football. If the Packers can get Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams going in the run and the pass and the defense can stay solid in the red zone, they’ll win this one. Packers 27, Panthers 21
The Panthers pulled a Week 5 surprise by winning at Houston, but their other wins have come against the likes of Arizona, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. They were blown out 51-13 by San Francisco two weeks ago. The Packers insist they failed to bring their "A" game against the Chargers; they'll bring it Sunday. Packers 31, Panthers 20