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Panthers-Packers Preview: Five Things to Watch in Week 7

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Riverboat Ron is coming to town and the Oneida Casino couldn't be more excited.

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Al Messerschmidt

On paper, the Panthers are a team the Packers should probably beat. They jettisoned damn near their entire cast of wide receivers in the off-season. Their star defensive player is on the sideline because he's an abusive crazy person. And, let's face it, it's never a great sign when your head coach is nicknamed after a wheelin' and dealin' casino owner.

But that's just what makes the Panthers such a dangerous team. Sure they've never been greater than the sum of their parts, but they've still got some scary parts. Cam Newton has the size and speed of a tight end, but is throwing the ball more efficiently than ever. And while their defense has kind of fallen off a cliff this year, players like Luke Kuechly, Star Lotulelei and Charles Johnson can make bad things happen to an offense in a hurry. And while the Packers are riding a nice three-game winning streak, they've shown enough cracks in their armor to show that teams they should beat can still have a chance if enough things break their way.

Here are 5 of those things to keep an eye on this week.

Cam on the run

Maybe the most concerning down of the Dolphins game last week was the read-option play that sprung Ryan Tannehill for a 40-yard gain. Tannehill's a fine athlete and all, but Cam Newton is like two Ryan Tannehills. Maybe three. Whatever, you get what I'm saying. Cam Newton is among the two or three most impressive quarterbacks in the league when he's on the run. He's fast, has great vision, and can shrug tacklers off like they're mere annoyances. As a team that has consistently struggled with the read option, the Packers will need to be both smart and well disciplined if they're going to contain Cam this Sunday.

Rodgers on a warpath

After some wonkiness with his accuracy earlier in the season, Rodgers has gone on a tear. He left Soldier Field a smoldering wreckage, made short work of the Vikings just four days later, and this past week, entered full-on Jedi Master mode as he led a flawless game-winning drive in the final minutes. And now he gets the Panthers secondary who were chewed up for 323 yards by Andy Dalton last week. This hasn't been Rodgers' most impressive stretch numbers-wise (which is saying something) but he's facing a team whose only hope might be to rough him up as much as possible. If they don't, Rodgers could be in for another massive day against a poor secondary.

Quicker passes

Speaking of roughing Rodgers up, the Dolphins did a pretty good job of that last week. Not counting last season's broken collarbone, Rodgers has been plenty resilient in the face of punishment, but still, last week's hits aren't the kind you want to see two Sundays in a row. For Mike McCarthy, he'll need to figure out a way to minimize the abuse Rodgers takes either with passes that get thrown sooner, or - I know I'm getting crazy here with this suggestion - some screen passes. Eddie Lacy isn't an awesome pass-catcher, but he's capable and there are plenty of sure hands to go around. Hopefully we'll see more of that, and less of Rodgers peeling himself off the ground.

Greg Olsen vs. the Linebackers

This is something I'm hoping not to see but if the Panthers are smart, they'll try to get Olsen matched up with the Packers' inside linebackers as much as possible. If you recall, the last talented tight end the Packers faced (Martellus Bennett) did a bit of a number on them. And while Olsen isn't quite the physical specimen Bennett is, he's a shifty veteran with more than enough athleticism to make A.J. Hawk or Brad Jones look silly. For the Packers, they'll likely need help from Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix if they plan on minimizing the damage that Olsen does.

The forgotten few

Our friend Brian Carriveau over at Cheesehead TV made this point a few days ago, but I think it's worth mentioning again - there are three players it'd behoove the Packers to get involved in the offense (if anything, for preparation later in the season). But for reasons unknown, Jeff Janis, DuJuan Harris and Brandon Bostick have been sparsely used to this point. I kind of get the first two, but Bostick was supposed to be the team's starting tight end before he got hurt. And while Andrew Quarless has certainly earned his snaps, I can only imagine that based on to how firmly entrenched in the doghouse Bostick is, he must have slept with someone's wife/girlfriend (editor's note: this is of course just hyperbole, people). Anyhow, I have this game being another Packers rout so with any luck, we'll see some of this trio get a little more action.

I got this one Packers 35, Panthers 14. Enjoy the game, everyone.

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