The Panthers travel to Indianapolis this weekend looking to snap a six-game losing skid against the Colts. Here are five things to watch.
Will Grier's debut
After 13 weeks, another quarterback change has come to Carolina.
Rookie third-round pick Will Grier will see the first regular season action of his career on Sunday in Indianapolis. With just two games left in the season, the Panthers are hoping a drastic change like this will help the team right the ship before the year comes to a close.
"It feels awesome," Grier said on Thursday. "I'm, obviously, very excited and ready to go."
Grier hasn't seen the field for the Panthers since the preseason finale against the Steelers, where he finished 11-for-18 for 189 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one fumble. After spending the entire regular season allowing Grier to acclimate to life in the NFL, offensive coordinator Scott Turner is ready to give the rookie a shot.
"He's looked good at practice," Turner said. "He's been great going through the offense talking to me throughout the course of a few weeks. We feel, hey, let's get him out there and have him play."
At this point in the season, it only makes sense to see what Grier is capable of doing under center. While wins in Week 16 and 17 won't have any affect in the grand scheme of things, a successful outing from Grier could at least make things interesting heading into the offseason.
Bradberry vs. Hilton
Everyone knows cornerback James Bradberry has a tough job. If it wasn't clear already, it certainly is after all four of the NFC's Pro Bowl wide receivers were selected from the NFC South.
This Sunday, though, Bradberry will be matched up against a new face: Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. In Bradberry's four-year career, he has yet to face one of the AFC South's most exciting wide outs.
"He's a veteran receiver," Bradberry said. "I think his game is pretty much speed. Got to get ready for the speed that he brings to the game. He sometimes reminds me of DeSean Jackson, the faster guys in the league."
So, how do you prepare for a receiver you've never faced before – especially one of Hilton's caliber?
"Just try to watch a lot of film," Bradberry said. "Get information from coaches that might have coached against him."
A coach like that shouldn't be too hard to find, considering interim head coach Perry Fewell spent a couple years with the Jaguars, a division rival of the Colts.
"Coach P was in that division with Jacksonville, so he played against T.Y. a lot," Bradberry said. "So, just get information from him and watch as much film as I can, try to get my own analysis of him."
This season has been a "prove it" year for Bradberry, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020. For the most part, Bradberry has met the challenge, recording a team-high three interceptions and ranking second on the team with nine passes defensed.
How much Brian Burns?
After bursting on to the NFL stage in the first month of the season, rookie edge rusher Brian Burns has slowed down quite a bit.
Part of that can be attributed to the wrist injury he suffered midseason which led to decreased playing time. Since then, despite being back to 100 percent, Burns' snap counts still fluctuate dramatically week to week.
Against the Seahawks last week, Burns saw a season-low seven snaps, compared to 34 the week before in Atlanta. It's hard to produce when you're not on the field, and Fewell admitted Burns's playing time was mishandled last week.
"He should have gotten more reps than what he got last week," Fewell said. "We had some run-pass tendencies and we were trying to get him in on some special certain situations, but we didn't do a good job getting him in on those situations, but we'll rectify that situation."
The return of Greg Olsen
Veteran tight end Greg Olsen is set to make his return on Sunday in Indianapolis. Olsen suffered a concussion against Washington in Week 13 and hasn't played in the weeks since but cleared the concussion protocol earlier this week.
With Grier making his first start, having a reliable safety net like Olsen will likely play a huge part in the rookie's success.
"It's our responsibility to take some things off his plate," Olsen said. "There are a lot of things we could have done to help (Kyle Allen) a little more. Now we've got to do that for Will."
Olsen has been instrumental to the Panthers both on and off the field over his nine years in Carolina, and the 34-year-old has openly discussed that that time may be coming to an end. With one year left on his contract, Olsen could still return for another go 'round with the Panthers, but with so much change looming for the organization, his feels his future is uncertain.
That means Sunday will be all about enjoying his time with the Panthers and trying to create some happy memories, no matter how many he has left in black and blue.
"My main is focus is trying to finish this year as positive as can be given the circumstances both personally and collectively as a team," Olsen said. "We'll go into the offseason and figure the rest out."
Who plays more inspired football?
The Panthers have been eliminated from playoff contention for a few weeks now, but the Colts just joined the club on Monday night. After suffering a 34-7 defeat at the hands of the Saints, the Indy's postseason hopes were officially shut down.
If the Panthers have proven anything over the past few weeks, it's that they won't stop fighting despite the circumstances. It will be interesting to see if the Colts feel the same way after a demoralizing defeat and a short week.
With nothing left on the line for either team, this one is all about pride.
Carolina is 5-1 against the Colts all-time, including a dramatic home overtime win in the rain in 2015.