Following one of the most disappointing losses in recent memory to divisional rival, the Saints, the Panthers will look to rebound on Sunday with a tough game in New England.
Here are the stories you need to know leading up to Sunday’s game:
1. Kelvin Benjamin Expected to Play
Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters on Thursday that wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin
is expected to play on Sunday “barring a setback.” Benjamin was injured early in the first quarter of last Sunday’s loss to the Saints when his leg bent awkwardly behind him as he was tackled. While the injury looked serious at the time, Benjamin dodged a bullet and will likely be ready to go against the Patriots.
This should be a huge relief for struggling quarterback Cam Newton, who already lost his favorite target Greg Olsen when he broke his foot against the Bills. Benjamin and Newton have a solid chemistry, and it would have been a big loss for the offense if he missed any extended time.
2. Cam Newton Must Be Better… Much Better
There is no hiding the fact that Cam Newton has been a massive disappointment through three games this season. He knows this, his coaches know this, and so does everybody who has watched any of the Panthers’ offensive performances thus far in 2017.
Newton seems to be struggling to recover from his offseason shoulder surgery on a partially torn rotator cuff, which has been painfully obvious judging by his accuracy. Newton has missed multiple open receivers this year, and he needs to turn his play around quickly if the Panthers want any chance at competing for the postseason. He needs to forget about last Sunday’s three-interception performance and try to bounce back against a Patriots defense that has given up plenty of yards this season.
Team officials have told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman that they feel Newton’s body is “breaking down fast.” Judging by the past three performances it is hard to argue against that assessment. Newton’s play and health will be something to follow as this season goes along.
3. Matt Kalil Leads the NFL in Sacks Allowed
, the left tackle the Panthers gave a hefty five-year contract to this offseason, has been awful to start this season. He leads the league in sacks allowed with five, and has a horrendous 38.2 grade from Pro Football Focus through three games now. With the amount of money the Panthers gave Kalil ($55.5 million with $25 million guaranteed), he needs to live up to the bill. He was signed to solve the Panthers’ problems at left tackle and there is no excuse for his poor performances to start 2017. Look for Kalil to try and prove his worth on Sunday against a Patriots’ defense that will surely be sending multiple pass rushers his way.