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Game Scout: Panthers at Cardinals

The SportsXchange

Carolina Panthers (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-2)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. - TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jennifer Hale

*Keys to the game: The Cardinals are putting QB Carson Palmer in a difficult situation. Arizona averages a paltry 78.8 rushing yards per game and will struggle to reach that number against Carolina's stout front seven. The Cardinals also dealt LT Levi Brown midweek; while he has long been a disappointment, it creates even more uncertainty on Palmer's blind side. If Palmer is given time, the Panthers' secondary is thin and very attackable. Carolina is running the ball more consistently under new coordinator Mike Shula, but he has been criticized for a conservative approach that has the Panthers last in the NFL with an average of 170 passing yards per game. With the Cardinals ranked second in defending the run, Shula is going to need to trust QB Cam Newton and open up the passing game. Rookie RB Kenjon Barner is also expected to make his regular-season debut as the change of pace back to DeAngelo Williams.

*Matchup to watch - Panthers DE Charles Johnson vs. Cardinals LT Bradley Sowell: Sowell, claimed off waivers from Indianapolis in September, will make his first career start, but he won't be asked to handle Johnson alone in many passing situations. Expect Johnson to draw consistent double teams, leaving Greg Hardy to work one-on-one on the other side. According to head coach Bruce Arians, the protection on Palmer's blind won't "get any worse."

*Player spotlight - Panthers WLB Chase Blackburn: The former Giant passed over long-time tackling machine Jon Beason, who ironically was traded to New York on Friday.

*Fast facts: The Panthers are 1-7 in October under head coach Ron Rivera. ... The Cardinals are reportedly paying $2.8 million of Brown's $3.6 million salary this season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Carolina's next five opponents -- Arizona, Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Atlanta -- are a combined 5-15. The Panthers are a sneaky bet to be a playoff contender with a solid ground game and a defensive front seven that will dominate Arizona.

*Our pick: Panthers 23-16
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