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Five Things to Watch: Panthers vs. Bills

1) Familiar foes: Did you know the Bills' new head coach used to coach in Carolina? And have you heard Buffalo has a few guys that played with the Panthers?

Yes, Sean McDermott is more familiar with his former team than any other coach in the league and that may give the Bills an advantage. But the Panthers have a significant advantage in talent.

Still, with players like Joe Webb just a couple of weeks removed from spending the past three seasons in Carolina's quarterbacks' room, the Panthers have taken the necessary precautions.

"Oh, yeah," head coach Ron Rivera said when asked if his team has switched up its calls this week. "The hand signals, the code words – even on defense."

2) Knocking off the rust: Ultimately, quarterback Cam Newton nailed it when he said this week, "You guys are making (too much)" of the McDermott/Webb/etc. storylines. More importantly, Newton needs to play better than he did in the first half at San Francisco. That means not missing on throws like the one he rushed to a wide-open Ed Dickson.

Newton's surgically repaired shoulder admittedly isn't 100 percent, and that became even more clear when the Panthers made him a limited participant in Thursday's practice. But while he works through the soreness, Newton is capable of putting together hot streaks like the one he had against the 49ers when he completed his final nine throws (not including a spike near the end of the first half).

The Panthers' game plan probably won't look much different than it was last week. Newton may take a shot or two down the field, but he'll likely focus more on an intermediate passing game with safer and easier tosses to guys like running backs Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart.


3) Strength on strength: McDermott's defense will mirror much of what he helped build in Carolina, which means his No. 1 goal will be to shut down the Panthers' run game.

The Bills allowed just 38 rushing yards in Week 1, but that was against the punchless Jets, who had to play from behind over the final three quarters.

Buffalo's defense is still a work in progress, but two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus can hold the point, and a McDermott defense will be all about disciplined gap control. That's why the Panthers could use Stewart to throw body blows to the interior which could set the table for McCaffrey for knockout punches.

4) Shadow Shady: On Thursday, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly likened McCaffrey to Bills running back LeSean McCoy. McCaffrey patterned much of his game after the Bills' five-time Pro Bowler.

McCoy, who picked apart the Jets for 159 total yards, is a master of the cutback. He'll patiently let a defense come to him before he burns them the other way. So the Panthers have to set the edge and stay in their gaps to slow down a guy who's totaled an NFL-best 66 100-yard multipurpose games since he came into the league in 2009.

5) Not just McCaffrey: Carolina's first-round pick has dominated headlines from training camp through his 18-touch debut last week. So it's not surprising Curtis Samuel, who missed much of camp with a strained hamstring and who didn't touch the ball in San Francisco, has been overshadowed.

But the Panthers want to get the wideout more involved Sunday. The Bills will likely spend much of the game pressing Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess at the line, which may allow Newton to look toward Samuel whether he's streaking across or down the field. The rookie will also play a key role on special teams.

In San Francisco, Samuel was the deep man on kickoffs and a double-teamed gunner on the punt team.

"He's been terrific," Rivera said. "You talk about a guy that's grasped his situation and just said, 'Wow, this is really cool.' He's been a young pro, he really has. I'm kind of fired up to watch him."

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