The Carolina Panthers are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Falcons, where they showed they’re still out to compete under interim head coach Steve Wilks. But can they compete with the defending AFC champions?
Here are six things to know for Sunday’s cat match against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Super Bowl hangover
In a trend the Panthers are quite familiar with, the Bengals are having a rough season following their Super Bowl LVI loss to the Los Angeles Rams. There is a muddled history of teams failing to make the playoffs after a loss in the big game, and the Bengals—at 4-4—could be the next in line.
Cincinnati would become the fourth team in the last decade of Super Bowl losers to fail to make the playoffs entirely. And this feisty Carolina team would be happy to assist in that while getting back in the race for their own division crown.
Time to eat for this defensive line
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The Bengals have had massive troubles in offensive line play, which has hurt both their running game and the protection for their franchise quarterback Joe Burrow.
Cincinnati has given up a whopping 30 sacks already this season, good for second-highest total in the NFL. They are also not helping their Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon reach his full potential, as he’s currently averaging a career-worst 3.3 yards per carry.
This is good news for a Panthers team that has one of the most potent defensive lines this season. While the numbers don’t pop off the screen for Carolina, it is clear when you put on the tape that they provide constant pressure from their studs in Derrick Brown and Brian Burns.
They should have no problem upping their sack numbers in this one, though.
Ties that bind
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The Panthers and Bengals have an interesting history against one another. Carolina currently leads the all-time series at a mark of 3-2-1.
Interestingly enough, the lone tie in Panthers franchise history came courtesy of the Bengals back in 2014.
Chase-ing a problem
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Last week, the Bengals lost their most important playmaker and Burrow’s best bud in Ja’Marr Chase—who’s expected to be out four to weeks weeks with a hip injury. And while that is unfortunate, it becomes an ample opportunity for the Panthers.
Before Chase landed in Cincinnati, the Bengals were the 27th-ranked passing offense. After he was drafted in 2021, they shot up a whole 20 spots in becoming one of the most explosive attacks in football.
It is no coincidence, given the connection that Burrow and Chase have, that Cincinnati’s passing game has already taken a dip without the talented wideout.
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There has been a resurgence in the running attack in Carolina, and it has been thanks to one man in particular—D’Onta Foreman. The bruising runner has become the lead back in a big way, exploding in the last two games for 236 yards and three touchdowns.
This does not bode well for a Bengals team giving up a middling 4.4 yards per carry. If Foreman can pound the rock once again this week against a mediocre run defense, he could be in for another 100-yard outing and really cement himself as a key piece for the Panthers moving forward.
A difference in pedigree at QB
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There is a distinct difference between the two quarterbacks facing off on Sunday—and that extends to how they made their way to this point in their careers. Burrow was a four-star recruit out of high school who bounced from one powerhouse to another (Ohio State to LSU) before taking college football by storm. He would then, of course, be taken by the Bengals with the first overall pick of the 2020 draft.
PJ Walker, on the other hand, was a three-star recruit who signed with Temple University. He made his way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017, spending time on and off the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad for a few years before ultimately being let go in early 2019.
He then took his talents to the XFL, where he absolutely shined as the league’s top quarterback. His performance gave him a chance with the Panthers in 2020, where he has gone 3-2 as a starter for them over three years.
Walker has fully embraced this opportunity to be the answer, and it will be exciting to see if he can answer the call versus the Bengals’ franchise passer.