CAROLINA COMES TO TOWN

The Dolphins have done a terrific job under Dave Wannstedt of beating teams they're supposed to beat, and that's good to know with the Carolina Panthers coming to Pro Player Stadium this Sunday.<P>Carolina has lost six in a row since winning at Minnesota in the season opener and come to Miami a struggling and injury-ravaged team.<P>

The Panthers lost three starters — halfback Tim Biakabutuka, former Dolphins guard Kevin Donnalley and linebacker Hannibal Navies — for the season in a game against Washington two weeks ago.

But the Dolphins, who are 10-0 under Wannstedt against teams at or below .500, will point to the fact that Carolina's last three losses have been close games — a last-second defeat against New Orleans, an overtime loss at Washington and a one-point decision against the Jets — to guard against looking past Carolina to next Sunday's game at Indianapolis.

What follows is a quick look at Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers

WHO: Miami Dolphins (4-2) vs. Carolina Panthers (1-6)

WHERE: Pro Player Stadium; Miami, Fla.

KICKOFF TIME: 1 p.m. ET

TELEVISION: FOX (Sam Rosen, play-by-play; Bill Maas, color)

LINE: Miami by 10

COACHES: Carolina, George Seifert (3rd year in Carolina, 11th year in NFL); Miami, Dave Wannstedt (2nd year in Miami, 8th year in NFL)

SERIES RECORD: The Dolphins lead 1-0 (the teams have never met in the playoffs)

LAST MEETING: 1998 at Carolina; Dolphins 13, Panthers 9

INJURIES: Dolphins — WR Dedric Ward (foot) is doubtful; CB Jamar Fletcher (ankle), S Brock Marion (calf), LB Twan Russell (quad) are questionable; LB Scott Galyon (wrist), T Todd Wade (back), S Shawn Wooden (wrist) are probable.

Panthers — CB Deveron Harper (hamstring), LB Kory Minor (knee), DE Jason Peter (neck) are out; LB Dan Morgan (leg), LB Dean Wells (calf) are questionable; WR Donald Hayes (foot), WR Steve Smith (knee) are probable.

THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

The Dolphins special teams vs. Panthers kick returner Steve Smith: A long return for a touchdown can quickly change a game, and the rookie already has taken a punt and a kickoff back for touchdowns this season. The Dolphins have been very good this season with their kick coverage.

Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler vs. Panthers cornerback Doug Evans: Fiedler has had much-publicized problems with interceptions this season, which isn't comforting to know when you consider that Evans has recorded an interception in each of Carolina's last six games.

The Dolphins pass rush vs. Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke: The Dolphins pass rush came to life against Seattle last Sunday, and getting heat on the slow-footed Weinke would make the defense's job a lot easier in this game.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL: Opposing defenses have concentrated their efforts this season on stopping Lamar Smith, who is averaging barely over 3 yards per carry. But don't think for a second the Dolphins will stop feeding him the ball. Two things to remember heading into this game is that Smith's two strong performances this season have come in Miami's two home games. Second, Carolina has been mediocre against the run this season and couldn't slow down Curtis Martin last weekend. The Dolphins pounded the ball at New England in their last home game, and it figures that they will do the same against Carolina.

WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL: After watching the Carolina offense's pathetic display against a mediocre Jets defense, it's difficult to imagine the Panthers accomplishing much against the Dolphins. Carolina has no running game with Biakabutuka gone, and Weinke usually doesn't have enough time in the pocket to find his receivers. The Panthers do have some good receivers, most notably wideout Muhsin Muhammad and tight end Wesley Walls, but they are useless if Weinke is running for his life. The Dolphins should be able to generate good pressure against Carolina's mediocre offensive line, and Weinke isn't mobile enough to make a lot of plays with his feet.

BOTTOM LINE:

In football jargon, this is known as a trap game because the Dolphins easily could overlook an overmatched Carolina team. But Wannstedt has been excellent at getting the Dolphins to focus on the game at hand, so overconfidence shouldn't be a problem. A bigger concern might be the weather with Hurricane Michelle moving toward Florida as the weekend approached.


Dolphins Report Top Stories