Here Kitty, Kitty...Posted:Dec 18th, 2020 4:34 pm
Here comes the first of two straight prime time games at Lambeau Field, with the Packers focused on taking care of business and hanging on to the top seed in the NFC. Obviously, on paper, this one looks like the easier of the two and the Pack won't have to deal with the league's best all-purpose back, as Christian McCaffrey is listed as doubtful to return from his calf injury.
That doesn't mean the Panthers will be a cakewalk. We all remember how tough they played last year at Lambeau, and they've been in a lot of close games, including a two point loss at KC and a one pointer at Minnesota. They also shut out the Lions a couple of weeks ago--and it's not easy to hold anybody scoreless in the NFL.
As always seems to be the case, they have a good set of linebackers, led by Shaq Thompson and Jeremy China (the dude who scored twice against the Packers). Their best pass rusher is second year guy Brian Burns, who the Pack passed on to take Rashan Gary. The Panthers pounced on Burns four picks later and he's been more productive so far, with six sacks this season, albeit with a lot more playing time.
But the 20th ranked Panthers defense struggles to defend the pass and that's why the Pack should be able to feast. They gave up four touchdown passes to the Broncos' Drew Lock last week in a home loss and just don't have a ton of talent on the back end. Struggling corner Rasul Douglas will likely draw Davante Adams and that is simply a mismatch.
Aaron Rodgers has the MVP within his grasp and this matchup should only help his cause. I'll be watching to see whether Rick Wagner can handle Burns straight up, or whether he'll need some help. With MVS emerging and Robert Tonyan proving his worth every week, the Pack should have no trouble scoring their league leading average of 31 points. I think Matt LaFleur will also work AJ Dillon into the ground game a bit--he said this week he believes he has three starters at the position.
As usual, the bigger question mark is how will the defense perform against Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers. Without McCaffrey, they're explosiveness is pretty much declawed. Mike Davis has been a capable backup, but his production has slowed in recent weeks. Their biggest weapon Saturday night may be the WR some of us coveted in free agency, Robbie Anderson. With Jaire Alexander likely drawing the DJ Moore assignment, it will be up to Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan to deal with the speedy Anderson. Their other key weapon is Swiss Army knife Curtis Samuel, but he's questionable with a hamstring after tweaking it this week and missing practice on Thursday. He would be a big loss and would make things a lot tougher for Teddy.
It also looks like left tackle Russell Okung might miss this game with a calf injury. Trent Scott would start in his place, and that would mean we can expect to see at least one Za'Darius Smith sack dance. Teddy will do a lot of checking down so tackling will need to be on point. The Panthers struggle on third downs and in the red zone and on a cold night the defense needs to get off the field and let Rodgers do his thing.
With all of their goals in front of them (other than winning the North, which is already behind them), I can't see a scenario where the Packers slip up here:
Packers 34 Panthers 23