The day that is marked on every Carolina Panthers fan’s calender is almost here.
On Sunday, the Panthers will be at the Baltimore Ravens – and former wide receiver Steve Smith.
This past offseason, the Panthers decided to cut their all-time leading receiver and arguably the best player to ever wear a Carolina uniform. After being released, Smith promised there would be “blood and guts everywhere” when he met his former team on the field. Check Betfair for the latest NFL betting odds..
This past week, however, has shown everyone that perhaps Smith is not as angry as he once was. Over the course of the week, Smith has said that he “never imagined he’d be in a different uniform” and that he “misses everything about Carolina.”
The matchup certainly presents an interesting setup, a great player going up against his former team. And while that may be the biggest story of this matchup, there are plenty of other things to watch for come Sunday.
The Panthers are coming off an embarrassing 37-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which nothing seemed to go right for them. They couldn’t run the ball, provide any run blocking or pass protection for Cam Newton, and the defense couldn’t tackle anybody, especially Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who ran for 147 yards and all over the Carolina defense.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are coming off a close 23-21 victory over their AFC North rivals, the Cleveland Browns. In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, the team was able to block out any distractions in an exciting comeback victory capped by kicker Justin Tucker’s 32-yard field goal as time expired.
Both the Panthers and Ravens are 2-1 right now, and although it’s only Week 4, neither can afford a loss right now. The Ravens are behind the Cincinnati Bengals and need a win in order to keep from falling behind farther. Meanwhile, the Panthers are tied for first in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons, while the New Orleans Saints still pose a threat to take the division at any time. The Panthers have to try to stay ahead in a close, tough division.
The Panthers have been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. Cam Newton’s ankle and ribs are both still sore, and with the way the offensive line played last week, Newton may not be able to take many more hits. The backfield is in bad shape, with running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker all hurt.
Carolina signed practice squad RB Darrin Reaves after Williams went down in Week 2, and also brought RB Tauren Poole to the practice squad to add some depth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’ll matter who is running the ball, as the offensive line cannot run block very well. The Panthers are 29th in the league in rushing with only 72.3 yards per game. Linebacker Thomas Davis, a key part of one of the best defenses in the NFL, is also banged up.
The Ravens defense matches up very nicely with the Carolina offense, as they’re 8th in the league in rushing defense, allowing only 87.7 yards per game. Both the passing game and the run game for Baltimore have performed well this season, and Steve Smith is sure to demand the ball from Joe Flacco. It’ll be easy for him to do so against Carolina’s weak secondary.
All in all, it looks like the odds are stacked in Baltimore’s favor. If they can keep the Carolina offense off the field and win the time of possession battle, the Ravens will win this one.