Five Things to Watch: Panthers vs. Bears

The Carolina Panthers are coming off their best performance of the season and hosting a team minus its starting quarterback. Is that enough to offset the return of Julius Peppers? We dissect those and other story lines in this pre-game primer.

1. With 16-year veteran backup Todd Collins starting in place of the concussed Jay Cutler, this stands as a perfect opportunity for the Panthers to get their first win of the season. Coming off a confidence-building two-point loss in New Orleans last week, the Panthers need to capitalize on Cutler's absence and get over the hump. If they can't post a victory against Todd Collins at home, you have to wonder what their chances are of beating the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns in the coming weeks.

2. Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half of the Bears loss to the New York Giants Sunday night. The Panthers defense has four sacks this entire season. Collins is nowhere near as mobile as Cutler, so this is the perfect opportunity for Ron Meeks' unit to get a pass rush going and swing the field position game.

3. Before the news broke that Cutler was out, the headlines leading into this game were all about Julius Peppers' return to Charlotte after spending the first eight years of his career with the Panthers. Coming into the game, Peppers has two sacks and two forced fumbles. He switches sides often, but Peppers figures to line up across from LT Jordan Gross on a decent amount of snaps. The two Pro Bowlers battled daily in practice for six years. Their talent and familiarity with each other makes this an intriguing match-up.

4. With Dwayne Jarrett cut, Steve Smith out with an ankle injury and David Clowney still learning the offense, the Panthers will start two rookie wide receivers to go along with rookie QB Jimmy Clausen. This trial by fire may be the best way for Brandon LaFell and David Gettis to learn what it takes to make plays in this league.

5. With the return of Peppers, Cutler not playing and all the news surrounding Jarrett's arrest, some of the media's attention has been taken away from scrutinizing Clausen's development. Getting the first touchdown of his career under his belt last week was a step in the right direction. A win this week against the Bears will certainly boost his and the team's morale heading in to the bye next week before welcoming the winless 49ers to Charlotte in two weeks.

Michael Stolp is a graduate of Wilkes University with a degree in Communications. He grew up in Piscataway, N.J., and recently relocated to Charlotte, NC. To follow his personal blog, click here.

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