The Panthers (4-8) are coming off their bye week to welcome the Broncos (4-8) in a Week 14 matchup Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Denver is coming off a disappointing defeat at Kansas City where the Broncos had the defending champions on the ropes before falling, 22-16, on Sunday Night Football.
This game is just the third time the Panthers have hosted the Broncos, splitting previous meetings in 2008 and 2012. Carolina is 1-5 against the Broncos all-time, making Denver one of just two teams the Panthers have ever beaten only once (Pittsburgh).
Drew Lock is back
Two weeks ago, all eyes were on the Broncos' quarterback situation as the entire QB room was quarantined for COVID-19. Practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton played quarterback in a 31-3 loss to the Saints, completing just 1-of-9 passes for 13 yards and two interceptions. But with just hours to prepare and not having played quarterback since his days at Wake Forest, Hinton's gutsy performance earned the attention of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will display his game-worn wristband.
However, this week the Panthers will face Drew Lock, Denver's No. 1 quarterback. On the season, Lock has 1,918 passing yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He's been far more effective outside of the pocket this season, completing 84 percent of his passes for a 146.2 rating on rollouts or boot plays, while he's completed just 57 percent of his passes in the pocket for a 63.8 rating.
Mile High Runners
Denver's rushing offense has been more consistent than the passing attack this year, ranking 12th in the league with 118.9 yards per game.
Melvin Gordon had 131 yards on 15 carries at Kansas City, and he now ranks 12th in the NFL with 685 rush yards and six touchdowns. Phillip Lindsay has over 400 rushing yards to go alongside Gordon.
However, Denver hasn't had much volume in terms of red zone rushes. The Broncos are 10th in the NFL in rushing yards outside the red zone (1,324) and last in the league in rushing yards (83) inside it.
While the Broncos' red-zone rushing attack hasn't been very effective, their red-zone defense has been. The Broncos made a statement on national TV by holding the Chiefs, one of the NFL's premier red-zone offenses, to an 0-for-4 mark on red zone opportunities, including 0-for-3 on goal-to-go situations.
On the season, Denver ranks second in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just 47.7 percent of red-zone drives.
Former N.C. State standout Bradley Chubb leads the Broncos with 7.5 sacks, to go with nine tackles for loss. He's become one of the more recognizable names on the defense after outside linebacker Von Miller was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury back in September.
A Few Reunions
The Panthers and Broncos played in a dramatic Super Bowl 50 and then a follow-up 2016 season opener that ended with a missed field goal as time expired.
Only one player that started that 2016 matchup will be active for the same team on Sunday: Panthers safety Tre Boston. Both Miller and Carolina's Kawann Short started in 2016, but they're both currently on their respective teams' reserve lists.
Running back Christian McCaffrey grew up in Denver's locker room around his father, former longtime Bronco Ed McCaffrey.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was Carolina's defensive coordinator from 1995-98, while quarterbacks coach Mike Shula was in Carolina from 2011-17, serving as offensive coordinator in the final five seasons.
Carolina is 1-5 all-time against Denver with a 1-1 record at home.