Thursday 22 August 2019

Rodgers looks to future as Packers and Panthers clash

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers

Barry Wilner

The unbeaten Carolina Panthers host the one-loss Green Bay Packers in the NFL's best matchup tomorrow, with the winner getting the inside track for the top rung in the NFC.

The Panthers are the lone unbeaten team in the NFC at 7-0, followed closely by the Packers. A win not only gives the Panthers a two-game lead over the rest of the conference, but would also afford them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Packers when it comes to determining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

You don't have to tell that to Aaron Rodgers, coming off one of his worst games as a professional, held to 77 yards passing and no touchdowns in a 29-10 loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday at Lambeau Field.

"It has potential implications down the road," Rodgers said. "We both have goals bigger than this game, but this could go a long way when the weather starts to change."

As Carolina Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen said, the Panthers would much rather play in temperate Charlotte in the playoffs than in frigid Green Bay. The Panthers have won six straight games at home.

They are coming off a short week, having won an overtime game against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday. After this, the Panthers don't face an opponent that currently has a winning record until Atlanta on December 13.

Also in the spotlight, Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis in sight of two big records, and the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their long-standing and often nasty rivalry.

Manning hasn't been in Indianapolis for three and a half seasons, in which time the Colts have been a playoff regular, as have his Broncos. Denver clearly is on a path toward another postseason berth, using a powerful defense more than Manning's arm. But he comes off his best performance of the season in the Broncos' romp past perhaps the NFC's best team, Green Bay.

If the Broncos win, Manning will break Brett Favre's record for regular-season wins by a quarterback (186). Manning also needs 284 yards passing to pass Favre (71,838) and become the NFL's career leader.

Once the nastiest of NFL rivalries, Raiders-Steelers gets some of that spice back too. For the first time since 2002, the Raiders are relevant, above .500 and with a big-play offense sparked by rookie receiver Amari Cooper. They manhandled the New York Jets' supposedly superior defense last week.

Quarterback Derek Carr is taking care of the ball. Running back Latavius Murray is ripping through holes, and ageless Charles Woodson is picking off passes as if it was still the late-90s.

The Week 9 action began on Thursday with Cincinnati's 31-10 home victory over Cleveland.

Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes to Tyler Eifert to help the Bengals improve to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history.

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