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Carolina Panthers vs Baltimore Ravens: Halloween Comes Early

Coming off a miracle win, the Carolina Panthers face the Baltimore Ravens who boast the best defense in the NFL. Who comes out on top?
Carolina Panthers vs Baltimore Ravens

Not much else can be said about the Carolina Panthers miracle comeback win against the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday. The roller coaster of emotions that ensued was almost too much to handle for an entire season, let alone one game. I’ll admit, and won’t back down from, the notion that Ron Rivera should be on the hot seat. This isn’t a detriment to his character or his grasp on the locker room. I actually really like Rivera as a face of the franchise. No, this is mostly based on his ridiculous unwillingness to let his team play loose until they are down by two or more scores. His stubbornness holds this team back significantly in a window of talent where, frankly, they should be dominant in more games than not.

Carolina Panthers vs Baltimore Ravens: Halloween Comes Early

Ron and company have a great opportunity this Sunday, facing another team in the top third of the league, to show that they’ve learned their lessons. Spreading the field allowing quarterback Cam Newton to play with flow on the offensive side while implementing more aggressive man coverage schemes on defense is the recipe for success with this roster. There is no need to continue trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Swallow your pride and adapt to the new age of this league, or die staying the same.

This game in Philadelphia, in more ways than one, felt like when the Panthers went to Seattle in 2015. In their first real test to prove themselves in a hostile environment against a Super Bowl team, the Panthers were behind by two scores heading into the fourth quarter. Carolina clawed back against all odds to win a statement game on a final minute touchdown pass from Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen. Sound familiar? The Panthers rolled from this point on, dominating almost every team in their path on the way to Super Bowl 50. Can Carolina replicate their magical 2015 run?

It all depends on how they look against the most terrifying defense in the league when they take on the Ravens this Sunday.

The Beasts of Baltimore

I hope you’ve prepared yourself for a pitcher’s duel on Sunday. The Ravens have the best defense in the league this season thus far and have the numbers to back it up. Baltimore boasts the number one defense in scoring (14.4 points per game), yards (280.6 yards per game), and sacks (27). These numbers were bolstered two weeks ago when the Ravens sacked Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans 11 times. Eleven. Sacks. Yeah, I’d take the under here.

This defense is scary good. Linebacker Terrell Suggs is still a monster and there are talented, competent players in each position group. This will be a great test for Newton and a Panthers offense that has been extremely inconsistent through six games in 2018.

Rising from the Dead

The Panthers have faced 17-0 deficits in their last two games. By some miracle, they’ve come out of this stretch 1-1. They cannot continue to dig themselves in deep holes and expect to climb back every week. The Panthers rank 30th in the NFL in first-quarter scoring this season, averaging 2.8 points in the opening 15 minutes. That’s right, the Panthers average less than a field goal in the first quarter this season. Norv Turner‘s offense has struggled to start fast. Facing a great defense this week, it’ll be important to score points at every opportunity. A first-quarter touchdown would be a huge boost to this team’s morale.

There is room for optimism on the offensive side of the ball as the Panthers ramp up rookie D.J. Moore while continuing to mesh the offense after the return of Greg Olsen and Curtis Samuel (both of whom scored touchdowns in Philadelphia on Sunday). The emergence of wide receiver Torrey Smith, who had a game-changing 45-yard reception on a crucial fourth down against the Eagles, has been refreshing. He will look to continue his strong play as he takes on his second consecutive former team that he’s won a Super Bowl with on Sunday. “Consistency” needs to be the keyword with this offense moving forward. If they can put a full game together, the sky’s the limit for these Panthers.

The Ghost of C.J. Anderson

Many fans are asking why running back C.J.  Anderson hasn’t seen many snaps over the last few weeks. To be fair, I don’t think he fits the Panthers “come-back-from-three-scores” personnel. However, Anderson provides a ton of value running between the tackles as a complement to starting tailback Christian McCaffrey, and as a pass blocker.

Maybe the coaching staff doesn’t want to show their hand? McCaffrey has proven to be trusted as a fantastic receiver and serviceable pass blocker thus far, playing the highest percentage of snaps for his team of any running back in the National Football League. In his last two games, McCaffrey hasn’t missed one offensive snap. That’s wild. The hustle needs to be respected, but why not give the man a breather?

Anderson isn’t your average backup halfback. He ran for over 1,000 yards last year with the Denver Broncos and graded out as PFF’s top pass blocker at the position. You’d think a body of work like this would demand snaps, but that has yet to be the case with this Carolina offense. It will be interesting to see just how the Panthers use Anderson this Sunday. Another week without action could be cause for concern when it comes to the free agent pickup.

Worst Case Scenario

All these years we’ve joked and poked fun at Joe Flacco. This is the week he finally snaps (unlike C.J. Anderson, zing). The Nightmare on Mint Street returns with a thirst for blood and a hunger for vengeance. Slicing up the defense left and right, Joe “Cool” is anything but. Not even his teammates are safe. “Who’s elite now?”, Flacco mutters to himself as he throws a rocket off the helmet of Lamar Jackson, knocking him unconscious during their rendition of the “Baltimore Special.” 

John Harbaugh and the Ravens defense look on in horror. They don’t know whether to feel disgusted by the carnage they’ve witnessed or lucky that Flacco is on their side, for now. The Ravens prove they are for real by handing Carolina their first loss at home this season.

Best Case Scenario

Here’s a new one for you: the Panthers put up points before trailing by three scores this week. I know, I know, this may be my most outlandish scenario of them all.

Rejuvenated by their improbable victory in Philadelphia last Sunday, Cam Newton and the Panthers pick right back up from where they left off. Like ripping the mask off of Michael Myers, the Panthers expose a Ravens defense that was looking like the best in the NFL. Flacco is no match for Luke Kuechly, who shifts from man to beast whenever there is a full crowd out at Bank of America stadium. Carolina moves to 5-2, their best start since 2015, and put pressure on the Saints to hold the division lead.

Bolded Predictions:

Score: Panthers 16 Ravens 13

Offensive MVP:  Greg (Gh)O(u)lsen (Seven catches, 93 yards, and one touchdown)

Defensive MVP: Luke “Trick or” Kuechly (12 tackles, one sack, one interception)

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