Sunday’s game is a huge contest for the Packers. If Green Bay wins it moves to 7-1. The Packers haven’t had a first half record of that quality since 2011. Their opponent, the Carolina Panthers, are undefeated. If Green Bay wins, they would hold a head-to-head tiebreaker. The Packers are favored on Sunday, and they’re coming off of an awful loss. If Green Bay takes care of business on Sunday they move to (what should be) an easy game against the Lions at home.
If Green Bay loses, it’s more trouble. It would drop the Packers to 2-2 on the road, with no easy road victories except Detroit on the schedule. It would also give the Panthers an effective three game lead in the NFC race. If Green Bay drops to 6-2 against Carolina’s 8-0 record with a tiebreaker, it would seem unlikely the Packers would be the NFC’s #1 seed.
The way that the Packers played against Denver was certainly concerning. The Packers offense was very ineffective. The defense looked more like struggling defenses of recent Packers history than the league leading scoring defense that Green Bay possessed going into Sunday night’s game.
Coming into the season Green Bay was the favorite in the NFC. The main competitors were considered Dallas and Seattle. Dallas is beat up and I’m not convinced Seattle is good anymore. It turns out gutting your offensive line to get a tight end who can’t block his own shadow and who was made better by a Hall of Fame QB is not a great idea. The Panthers, at 7-0, have to be viewed as the #1 competition for the Packers going forward. If this team can beat good teams on the road it has to start on Sunday.
Why the Packers Will Win: they are better. They are favored. Yes, Green Bay got beat down by a very good Denver team (better than I thought they were) on national television. At the same time the Panthers almost lost at home to an awful Indianapolis team.
Green Bay played this Carolina team at home a season ago and won by three touchdowns, 38-17. The game was not as close as that final margin would indicate. At one point in that contest Green Bay had a 38-3 lead.
This is not that Panther team. Carolina is the best defense in the league that isn’t Denver. In fact Green Bay has a high offensive DVOA ranking because they’ve played the 5th most difficult schedule of any offense in the NFL. That number will rise into the top 3 after Sunday’s contest with Carolina.
If Clay Matthews is healthy, this isn’t a very difficult Panthers team to defend. I’ve heard a lot of concern about giving up big offensive days to statue quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning.
“What’s gonna happen when it’s Cam Newton?!”. Well it’s probably not going to be that big of a deal. The Green Bay defense has effectively handled top four rushing quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith. After the game the Packers will have faced all four top rushing quarterbacks and will be starting the fifth (Rodgers).
Why the Panthers will win: they have a very good defense. The Packers aren’t very good on the road. They just had a close loss. They have an understanding of how important the game is.
If Green Bay is the team that I watched for the first six weeks, this is going to be a difficult game for Carolina. BJ Raji and Mike Daniels were a part of a very good rush defense. The run defense against Denver was not good. It allowed the Broncos to set up the play action pass, and even an old Peyton Manning feasted.
The Panthers don’t have the perimeter weapons to win one on one matchups. They don’t throw the ball well. They do, however, run the hell out of the ball. If the Packers can stop the Panthers run game they can stop the Panthers. If they can’t, this one could go poorly just like the one in Denver.
Bottom line: I can’t tell what to make of this game. Green Bay looked so awful against Denver, but were able to win 6 games against NFL football teams in a row to start the season. I don’t really think all that much of this Carolina team, either.
I guess I have to go with my gut. My gut tells me the Packers are still a very good team and the Panthers aren’t. There defense is very good. It’s probably the second best unit in the league, but it’s not as good as Denver’s. Philly Brown and Tedd Ginn aren’t Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Packers 20 Panthers 17