Two teams that are still very much alive in the hunt for their respective division crowns face off on Sunday, as the Carolina Panthers visit the Cincinnati Bengals. The Panthers lost a wild game on the road last week in overtime to the Atlanta Falcons, falling 37-34. Cincinnati also had difficulty getting by a divisional foe, losing on Monday night to the Cleveland Browns by a final score of 32-13.
As we head closer to kickoff, here are three storylines we’ll be watching.
The Foreman Has Spoken
When the Panthers appeared to be sellers at the trade deadline by shipping Christian McCaffery off to the San Francisco 49ers, no one thought that their backfield production might actually increase. D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard would figure to form a committee that would be serviceable but not be strong enough to tilt games in Carolina’s favor.
Hubbard had a strong showing two weeks ago before going down with an ankle injury, but it seems like Foreman is doing everything he can to run away with the job. Even when Hubbard was healthy in Week 7, Foreman sliced up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 118 yards rushing. When he had the job to himself last week against the Falcons, Foreman ran for another 118 yards and three touchdowns.
Given what he has done recently, and how well he played relieving Derrick Henry last year with the Tennessee Titans, expect Foreman to have a longer leash this week even if Hubbard makes it back.
Protecting Joe Burrow
It’s been a theme for the Bengals ever since they decided to take Joe Burrow first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Cincinnati has struggled to keep their franchise quarterback upright, and their lack of success doing so in 2022 has been a bit worrisome considering how much they invested to upgrade their offensive line.
The season got off to a rough start in that department, as Burrow was brought down a combined 13 times in two games to start the campaign. Things would get better in following weeks, but the problem was front and center again against Cleveland, as Burrow was dropped five times on Monday night.
The formula for Cincinnati is pretty simple, but it’s proven to be a lot easier said than done. The Panthers are third worst in the NFL in total sacks, but the Bengals can’t afford to take anyone’s pass rush lightly these days.
Pineiro Under Pressure
There are a lot of different ways to digest what took place for Carolina against the Falcons last week, but one fair takeaway is that they should have gotten the victory. After the miraculous touchdown pass by P.J. Walker to D.J. Moore, all Carolina had to do was make an extra point to take the lead.
However, because Moore removed his helmet while celebrating the touchdown, Carolina was flagged for a 15 yard penalty, which moved the extra point try back for kicker Eddy Pineiro. He missed it, and would not convert on another short field goal try in overtime.
If his confidence is indeed shaken, it is possible Carolina might be more aggressive on fourth down against the Bengals.