1. Welcome back, Mr. Olsen:Cam Newton is getting his dog back this weekend. Tight end Greg Olsen returned to practice this week and will make his way back into the lineup against the Jets after missing the previous eight games.
"We've got to see how things play out," Olsen said. "I would love to just pick back up where I left off, play every snap and catch 10 balls. That would be great. Maybe that happens? I'm going to try. But that doesn't necessarily mean that's what is going to happen. I'm excited to just get back out there. I'll let the game come to me. If I catch ten, if I catch none, just help us win and help us get going offensively. Just do whatever I can."
Olsen's return comes at the perfect time for Carolina, who just lost emerging receiver Curtis Samuel to a season-ending injury against the Dolphins.
"Greg brings an explosive attack to our game that's very methodical and efficient," Newton said. "But it's on me, as it has been, to decipher who gets the ball and go where the defense dictates."
2. Judging Josh:Despite struggling in his last outing at Tampa Bay, Josh McCown is on pace to throw for 3,587 yards and 22 touchdown passes – both would break personal bests. The former Panthers quarterback has been very productive for the Jets, who have already surpassed preseason expectations.
"Josh is playing at a high level, and he's done some good things on the field and off the field," Jets quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said. "He's playing at a high level; he's continuing to get better. At the end of the day, as we all know, quarterbacks are judged by their win-loss record, so we have six games to improve that."
McCown ranks third in completion percentage – 69 percent – only behind Drew Brees and Alex Smith. The Panthers defense ranks fourth against the pass this season.
"He's consistent," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He doesn't make the big, big mistake. He throws a good ball. His timing is good. He's smart, he sees things, he a savy veteran, and he'll take his shots."
3. Running game rolling:In the previous two games, Carolina has totaled a combined 495 yards rushing and has eclipsed 100 yards in their last four. Since implementing more designed runs for Newton, the Panthers offense has become much more dynamic, and the rushing attack has evolved into one of the most dangerous in the league at 4.2 yards per carry.
The Jets on the other hand rank 21st in rushing offense and rushed for just 56 yards their last time out. This week they face linebacker Luke Kuechly and the league's third-best rushing defense.
"It's important to get it going every weekend," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. "We try to run the ball every weekend and just judging the way the last game went against Tampa, we always need to establish the run regardless of who we're playing."* *
4. Red zone defense: There are few holes in Carolina's defense, a unit that ranks second in the NFL. However, surprisingly enough, the Panthers have been one of the leakiest defenses in the red zone this season. Carolina ranks 30th in red zone defense, allowing a touchdown on 68.4 percent of opponent trips in the red area.
As inconsistent as the Jets' offense has been so far this year, they're one of the better teams at punching it in when they move inside the 20. New York ranks 10th in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown on 57.9 percent of trips in the red area.
5. Bye week:Both the Panthers and the Jets had Sunday off this past weekend. For New York, the bye week came at a perfect time, following a 15-10 loss to the Buccaneers. The Panthers on the other hand were enjoying a three-game winning streak.
How both teams respond to the time off is still in question, yet the message remains the same every week.
"It's one at a time, more so than anything else," Rivera said. "If you look at the games we play, the next six, we control our own destiny based on who we play. But the most important thing is the mantra of focusing on this game."