It’s the halfway point in the 2015 season and the Carolina Panthers are off to their best start in franchise history after winning all eight games to this point. They just completed a four game stretch which featured victories over three of the four conference championship teams from last season.
As if 8-0 wasn’t already impressive enough.
The Panthers have played a mix of good and bad teams and haven’t always won convincingly but the proof is in the record where it is clear and evident that this team, led by quarterback Cam Newton and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, is one of the NFL’s best and a legitimate contender.
In the back end of the schedule, Carolina’s opponents get much weaker record-wise and they’ll start out the home stretch with a matchup against the 2-6 Tennessee Titans this Sunday in Nashville.
The Titans have had a rough season thus far. They fired Head Coach Ken Wisenhunt seven games into the season and have experienced the common struggles of a young team. There are also a few positives as well though. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has played exceptionally well at many times this season and looks like the real deal. He has been afflicted with injuries however and missed a couple games which may have contributed to Wisenhunt’s downfall and the lack of consistent offensive production from the team.
But with Mariota back healthy this team is certainly capable of surprising and Carolina will need to be ready for anything. So, here’s what to watch for in Week 10 for the Panthers against the Titans.
Can the Receivers Keep It Going?
This game shouldn’t be a terribly difficult matchup for Carolina and they have the opportunity to keep momentum rolling in a number of ways, most notably in the passing game. Last week saw Newton and the passing game put up a terrific showing with contributions across the board in the receiving corps. The Titans may be a weak team but actually pose one of the greater threats defensively in the league as they rank as the sixth best defense in total yardage and third best in pass defense. So, letting the good times roll may be a bit more difficult than it would seem. Tennessee will be without its top corner in Jason McCourty though which could be big blow for the defense and an opportunity for Carolina to do some damage. With the success they had with the deep pass last week, the Panthers may try to repeat that again here and Ted Ginn and Philly Brown may get a good chance to impact this contest. Not to be ignored is rookie Devin Funchess who, after a breakout performance last week, may get a few more targets to see if he can string together another nice performance. The Panthers’ receiving corps versus the Titans’ pass defense will be an interesting matchup that could sway the course of this one.
Top Defense vs. Rookie Quarterback
The Panthers have already faced one rookie this year and if you can remember correctly, it went fairly well for this defense. Mariota will pose a different kind of threat but nonetheless, this Carolina defensive unit should be excited at the chance to assert their dominance here. The Titans’ offense is lackluster to say the least. They rank 28th in total offense and have given up the fourth most sacks in the league this year. To make matters just a little worse, they hold a turnover differential of -6 and their top wide receiver, Kendall Wright, has been ruled out. All of these stats should leave the Panthers chomping at the bit. With Wright out, Mariota will now have to rely on tight end Delanie Walker and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham in the passing game giving a Carolina secondary that has flourished this season, a favorable matchup. The offensive line in Tennessee is another issue and with the defensive front looking impressive last week in the pass rushing game, Kawann Short and his line mates will look to keep the momentum rolling here. Mariota can certainly create some magic but overall this Panthers defense looks to have the definitive edge.
Foot On the Gas
The focal point of this matchup for Carolina should be momentum. Both on offense and defense, the Panthers will look to keep things going for four straight quarters and hold off a team that they should beat. One of the biggest issues thus far for the undefeated Panthers has been putting opponents away when they are up. The last two weeks are just two of the many examples of this. They had the Colts and Packers all but beat and then did everything wrong to allow them back in it and, save from some clutch plays, they could have easily lost. Against Tennessee it will be no different. Carolina is expected to beat them and should do so handedly but if they get complacent, Mariota and the Titans have every opportunity to make this a game. On offense, the team will need to get up and stay moving and running clock if that’s the case and defensively, they’ll need to consistently stop this team and give Mariota trouble and keep him out of rhythm for 60 minutes. Even in a game like this, keeping momentum and your foot on the gas is key, especially entering the latter half of the season.