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Five Things to Watch: Panthers vs. Colts

1. MARQUEE QUARTERBACK DUEL: It's not often the Panthers face a quarterback that draws some physical and athletic comparisons to Cam Newton. But that's the case this week with Andrew Luck and the Colts coming to town for Monday Night Football.

"Andrew Luck is a player very similar to our guy," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He has the ability to tuck it and run. He's a good athlete. He's got a great arm."

Luck and Newton – two big-bodied, strong-armed former No. 1 overall picks – have never played against each other. Both quickly established themselves to become two of the brightest young stars in the NFL.

Newton has been thriving in 2015, making winning plays with his arm and legs to steer Carolina to a 6-0 start. Luck, meanwhile, has been battling injury and inconsistency. He missed two games with a shoulder injury, and the Colts lost both games since his return.

"Simply put, we haven't and I haven't played very good football, winning football," Luck said.

Still, the Colts (3-4) enter Week 8 leading the AFC South. And the Panthers know a quarterback of Luck's caliber always gives Indianapolis a chance to win.

"He's anything you want in a quarterback," cornerback Josh Norman said.

2. RUN GAMES ON OPPOSITE ENDS: This matchup features the league's top-ranked rushing attack on one side and the 27th-best on the other.

Carolina, with its powerful and versatile rushing offense, is averaging 144.7 yards per game on the ground. Indianapolis is averaging 93.6.

But many expect the Colts to stay more committed to the run game after several weeks where a lot has been put on Luck's shoulders. Running back Frank Gore, who boasts a 4.6 yard per carry average, would certainly welcome more opportunities.

"Frank Gore is a really, really good running back," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "He does a great job of creating something out of nothing. He's a guy that has historically been difficult to tackle. He does a great job of using his leverage and his power."

3. CENTER OF ATTENTION: How will the Panthers' offense handle not having arguably the best center in football? Unfortunately, they may have to answer that question on Monday night.

All-Pro Ryan Kalil, who hasn't missed a start since he suffered a season-ending foot injury in 2012, is doubtful with an ankle injury. Veteran Fernando Velasco is the next man in, and he'll certainly be the center of attention if he's called on to make his first start since Week 9 of last season.

4. COVERAGE PLAN: Cornerback Josh Norman figures to see plenty of wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who Luck targets about 10 times per game. If Indianapolis wants to get their explosive playmaker involved, they’ll likely need to test Norman, who has taken his game to another level in 2015.

"We have to hone in on what he likes to do and try to take it away," Norman said.

But the Panthers also have to keep a close eye on wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who leads the Colts with five touchdown catches, and Andre Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowler still trying to find his footing in Indy.

Said linebacker Luke Kuechly: "They are very talented. They have weapons everywhere."

5. WEATHER REPORT: Rain is expected throughout the evening, which could make for some challenging conditions. In that case, it's always nice to have a steady run game and a home field advantage.

"It's easier for us because we are here at home," Rivera said. "So if we have shoe issues, it's easy for the players to trade out their shoes and stuff like that.

"But I'm not concerned about it (affecting our game plan)."


Photos from Carolina's win over Indianapolis.

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