The NFL schedule pits a pair of playoff hopefuls against one another in Week 8. The Carolina Panthers are riding high after a road win over the Eagles that was fueled by a furious 17-point fourth-quarter comeback. The Baltimore Ravens lost a nail biter at home to the Saints, yet are listed as two-point road favorites in this upcoming contest.
The trends clearly favor the 4-2 Panthers. Since 2016, Carolina is 6-3 against the AFC and 13-6 in Charlotte, including an undefeated mark at home this season. Conversely, Baltimore is 3-6 out of conference, 8-11 on the road and 6-9 against teams with a winning record over the same period.
Both head coaches, John Harbaugh and Ron Rivera, are known for producing overachieving teams. Both rosters are constructed with the intent to bully and impose their will on the opposition. And while the Panthers rushing offense and run defense have been better than in those combined phases, the Ravens have a clear advantage in the passing game on both sides of the ball. Baltimore’s passing game edge should bode well in an old school matchup played in the modern NFL.
Three key matchups:
OLB Matt Judon vs RT Taylor Moton
At least from a statistical standpoint, the Ravens edge rusher has regressed from his breakout sophomore campaign in 2017. Through seven games this season, Judon has posted just 1.5 sacks, five quarterback hits and four tackles for a loss despite playing an average of 48 snaps per game. If he struggles to make an impact again in Week 8, the Ravens may consider promoting ascending pass rusher Tim Williams ahead of Judon in future games.
Right tackle Taylor Moton has come on strong in his second season, he is currently ranked as Pro Football Focus’ #7 offensive tackle. The former second round selection has helped pave the way for the Panthers fourth ranked rushing attack and his protection has been instrumental in their impressive sacks allowed totals. Judon will be challenged to both hold the edge and provide pressure with his bull rush against this physically strong blocker.
On the road against a similarly matched team, controlling the line of scrimmage will be a top priority for Baltimore’s front.
WR Michael Crabtree vs CB James Bradberry
In Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson, as well as recently acquired safety Eric Reid, the Panthers field a group that is fully capable of taking away underneath routes and controlling the middle against the Ravens tight ends. This, combined with their top-ten run defense, will put pressure on Joe Flacco to move the ball with his outside receivers. However, James Bradberry is an inconsistent player who was responsible for much of Alshon Jeffery’s 7-88-1 stat line last Sunday.
Following his huge game in Week 7, Carolina will probably opt to mark John Brown with their speedy rookie Donte Jackson and provide safety help over the top. They may also take their chances with Captain Munnerlyn marking Willie Snead in the slot. This will leave Michael Crabtree, a receiver who has rebounded from a poor outing in Cleveland by stacking his two best games for the Ravens in consecutive weeks, with a prime matchup in Bradberry.
The key to victory for the Ravens is attacking the Panthers vulnerable pass defense and Crabtree is the ideal receiver to emphasize.
ILB C.J. Mosley vs QB Cam Newton
Carolina’s lackluster receiving corps is unlikely to find much success against the Ravens second ranked pass defense. They will feature versatile running back Christian McCaffrey on the ground with a run-first game plan. Dual threat quarterback Newton essentially serves as their short yardage back, he has rushed for 257 rushing yards and three scores this season on nearly nine carries per game.
Despite missing almost two full games with injury, Mosley is tied for the team lead in tackles. Nonetheless, he has not made many impact plays this season, recording only one tackle for loss, one pass breakup, zero interceptions and zero sacks. C.J. fared well in his previous outing against the Panthers in 2014 with 11 tackles in a game where the Ravens allowed just 67 rushing yards, yet his #35 PFF linebacker grade this season is less than stellar.
Baltimore needs their defensive captain to make short yardage stops on money downs this week in order to avoid another time-of-possession disadvantage.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Panthers 13