Game: Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers
Time & Location: Sunday 1:00 PM EST; Bank of America Stadium; Charlotte, NC
Previous Meeting: 2015 Week 9, Panthers Won 37-29
Aaron Rodgers makes his return against the Panthers and their defense that currently ranks tied for 3rd in the NFL in sacks with 40 on the season. Since his injury, the offensive line has taken a step back with the loss of starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Starting in his place has been Jason Spriggs, who is questionable for Sunday. His health will be huge against this ferocious Panthers front. The Panthers will be without starting guard Trai Turner, which will give Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark the opportunity to have big games. Devin Funchess is questionable but should play. The Packers corners have been battered all season and Davon House is out this week. Damarious Randall will need to step up again to slow down the Panthers.
The Packers offense was humming prior to Rodgers injury and has looked disjointed since. This is one of the most difficult matchups that they could have gotten, as the Panthers are ranked 5th in total defense this season. The Packers have leaned on the run game with Rodgers out as both rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones have played very well this season, but they won’t be allowed to do that against the Panthers and their fourth-ranked run defense. Rodgers will need to get back to playing at his extremely high level quickly to give this team a chance to win.
The Minnesota Vikings had won 7 straight games before being run over by the Panthers and Jonathon Stewart, who registered his first career three-touchdown game. The Panthers, after taking a step back last season on both sides of the ball, have begun to regain their 2015 NFC champion form in recent weeks. They’re averaging 29 points per game over their last three games, which includes 31 last week against the Vikings who are only allowing just over 18 per game on the season. The Packers defense has been underwhelming for years, but, if the team is going to attempt to stay alive in the playoffs, they’re going to need to step it up to slow down Cam Newton and the Panthers offense.
One of the Packers major players that have been nearly non-existent since Rodgers injury is wide receiver, Jordy Nelson. He’s totaled 22 receptions in the games following Rodgers injury. He has averaged just over two receptions per game, whereas he averaged five per game in the previous games. Rodgers and Nelson have had a great connection throughout their time together and this connection will be more important than ever to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Panthers are fighting for first place in the NFC South and a first-round bye in the playoffs, while the Packers are attempting to run the table for the second year in a row and hope for a shot at the playoffs. After being out for eight weeks, Rodgers should have some rust, but, with the season on the line, I think the Packers are able to keep it alive.
Final Score Prediction: Green Bay Packers 27, Carolina Panthers 21
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