Walkthrough: Reasons for optimism

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) reacts after getting ejected during a 2014 game at Lambeau Field.

You might think the Green Bay Packers were 1-6 going into this Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers rather than 6-1, based on the fallout from their 29-10 loss to the Denver Broncos.

After faltering in the first battle of unbeatens, the Packers can rectify matters against the Panthers, who improved to 7-0 after a 29-26 overtime win over Indianapolis on Monday night. It’s only the third time in NFL history a team has faced opponents with 6-0 or better records in consecutive weeks.

While some may be down on the Packers’ chances after their offense produced only 140 total yards of offense and defense allowed 500 to the Broncos, the oddsmakers don’t necessarily agree. Most sports books have the Packers entering Sunday’s game as three-point favorites over Carolina.

As odd as it may seem, there are plenty of reasons why the Panthers might be the perfect opponent for a Packers team that needs to bounce back.

For starters, Green Bay obliterated Carolina 38-17 last season at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers (19-of-22 passing for 255 yards and three touchdowns) commanded the game from start to finish. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers concocted a game plan to quiet Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was held to 17-of-31 passing for 205 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

They will need to deal with tight end Greg Olsen, but Newton and Carolina’s 29th-ranked passing offense features few weapons on the perimeter after losing former first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in August.

Outside of Olsen, the Panthers’ leading receiver is Ted Ginn Jr., who had as many drops (two) as catches against the Colts on 10 targets. One of those drops came near the end and would have resulted in a game-winning touchdown if he could have hauled it in.

The Panthers have tailored their offense around Newton, now in his fifth NFL season. Unlike San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Newton can make all the throws in addition to being dangerous with his feet. Carolina averages a league-best 144.0 rushing yards per game.

Newton has shown poise and an ability to adjust if the situation dictates, but he still will give you opportunities at the ball from time-to-time. He has committed 10 turnovers in seven games.

The Packers don’t typically lose by 19 points like they did against Denver, but the team also has a strong history of bouncing back from difficult losses. It did so last year with a dominating 55-14 win over Chicago after losing to New Orleans 44-23 in its previous game.

Rodgers said after Sunday’s loss that the team likely would have a little edge to it after the disappointment against the Broncos. He’ll need to navigate their struggling offense past the Panthers’ ninth-ranked defense.

Last Sunday admittedly was ugly. After having their undefeated streak broken by the Broncos, the Packers will have the chance to return the favor against Carolina, one of four unbeaten teams left in the NFL. and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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