Three Carolina Panthers to watch: Green Bay Packers

(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) Luke Kuechly
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) Luke Kuechly /

The Panthers bounced back against a decent Titans team on Sunday to push their record to 5-3. After officially losing Cam Newton for the regular season, they face another top NFC opponent on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field.

Losing Cam Newton sucks. Not knowing if he’s played his last snap as a Carolina Panther sucks even more. I’m not an advocate for moving on unless he can’t get healthy by Week 1 of the 2020 season, as $19 million for a franchise quarterback is an absolute steal in this age of the NFL.

The silver lining in all of this, is that the rest of the team is able to move on with clarity and focus on the task at hand. The task at hand this week won’t be an easy one to handle, as the Panthers travel to frigid Green Bay to take on a 7-2 Packers team that’s coming off a frustrating loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Aaron Rodgers will be locked in. It will be very, very cold.

Regardless of the circumstances, this would be an enormous game for the Panthers to win if they want to make the playoffs this season. As it now stands, the Panthers are 5-3 with upcoming games against the Falcons (1-7), Redskins (1-8), Saints (7-1), Seahawks (7-2), and Colts (5-3).

If the Panthers win the games they should win against Atlanta and Washington, they will finish with at least eight wins. To make the playoffs, I believe they’ll need at least ten. A road win against Green Bay will increase Carolina’s playoff chances exponentially.

With that being said, players will absolutely need to step up. Here’s who I’ll be watching closely through the falling snow this Sunday evening.

WR Donte Moncrief

Sixth year wide receiver Donte Moncrief has had an up-and-down career. He was drafted by the Colts where he saw major success in his second season under current Panthers Wide Receivers Coach, Jim Hostler. In 2015, Moncrief finished the season with 64 receptions for 733 yards and six touchdowns. Since then, his only season that has come close production-wise came last year in Jacksonville in 2018, where he caught 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns. This was enough to earn him a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason.

After having more drops (five) than receptions (four) to begin the season. The Steelers decided to waive Moncrief. The Panthers claimed him this week, reuniting him with coach Jim Hostler.

I’ll be watching closely to see if he is implemented in the offense in any way this week, and if so, will he contribute? A fresh start could be just what Moncrief needs, and a big bodied receiver could be just what this offense needs.

LB Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly is amazing. If the Panthers are going to win on Sunday, he will need to win a chess match against one of the best quarterbacks to ever play, Aaron Rodgers.

Somehow, in his eighth season, Luke hasn’t lost a step. Through eight games the linebacker has amassed 78 tackles and two interceptions. The captain will need to set the tone for a defense that has struggled against the run all season long. Especially in a game where the weather can affect the passing game.

Former Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis saw Aaron Rodgers last week in Los Angeles, where his Chargers shut down a usually formidable Packers offense. Being so close with Luke Kuechly, the two are sure to have exchanged some intel on how to be successful against Green Bay. I’ll be watching closely to see if Luke has Rodgers’ number early in this game.

RB Christian McCaffrey

I feel like CMC shows up on the list more often than anyone, but for good reason. McCaffrey has a chance to be the second ever Panthers player to win the MVP award. He probably won’t due to position bias, but the numbers don’t lie.

Green Bay has one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The cold air will force the ball to move through the ground game on both sides. Kyle Allen is at his best when he isn’t asked to do too much for this offense. If CMC can get on a roll early behind his hog mollies, he can be in for a historic type of day in a historic type of venue.

I’ll be watching the potential MVP very closely this Sunday, and you should be too.