This week, the Carolina Panthers (4-5) travel to Glendale to face the Arizona Cardinals (8-1). The Panthers are looking to steal a win in this one against a juggernaut of a team in the Cardinals. The Cardinals are looking to stay in control of the number one playoff seed. Before picking this game, let’s look at the three biggest factors to watch.
3 Key Factors
The Health Of Kyler And Nuke
Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are both officially listed as questionable on the Cardinal’s injury report. This dynamic duo has been amazing this year so far. Kyler Murray is responsible for 20 touchdowns in his eight games this season. The third year passer has been an unstoppable threat in the red zone as well. He has a TD-INT rate of 12-1 when passing in the red zone. All three of his rushing touchdowns also came in the red zone. On the other end of a lot of those passes, Hopkins has 33 receptions for 420 yards. He also has caught seven touchdowns, ranking 5th in the league. All of DeAndre’s touchdowns have come in the red zone.
Despite all of the statistics laid out above showing how special these two players are, the Cardinals were missing them last week and still ran over their division rival, the San Francisco 49ers. In that game, a lot of credit has to be given to HC Kliff Kingsbury. His backup QB Colt McCoy led an efficient passing attack, even while missing Nuke. The Cardinals ground game also exploded with 3 TDs between James Connor and Eno Benjamin. Suffice it to say, the Cardinals are going to make hay against this Panthers team regardless of who is playing.
Star RB Christian McCaffrey will play this Sunday in his second game back since his return from IR. The Carolina Panthers’ offense is noticeably different when McCaffrey is in the line up. In the first two games this season, CMC was averaging close to 30 touches and 162 total yards per game. HC Matt Rhule clearly wants to run the offense through Christian McCaffrey, but the question is can McCaffrey stay healthy. Since his 1000 yard rushing and receiving season in 2019, McCaffrey has only played in seven games. Look for the ball to be distributed more equally in the future with Cam Newton returning, but CMC may get the majority of the workload in this one.
Old School Defensive Struggle
Look for both of these defenses to step up and show out, regardless of either teams QB situation. Both defenses rank in the top half of the league in a lot of defensive statistics. The Cardinals and Panthers both rank in the top 10 for points allowed, according to PFF. Both teams also feature stars on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers have stars on all three levels of the defense, with Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson, and Stephon Gilmore. The Cardinals have something similar on their end as well, with Chandler Jones, Isaiah Simmons and Budda Baker. Watch for the health status for CAR Brian Burns and ARI Budda Baker. Both are listed as questionable.
Arizona rolls in this one. The Cardinals just have too much firepower for the Panthers to try to keep up with. For Cardinals fans, the team will stay atop the NFC with this win. For Panthers fans, this team is creating quite a hole for Cam Newton and company to get out of.
Score Prediction: 28-13 Cardinals
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