The Last Word: Panthers vs. Bengals

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Bill Voth

Offensive key: DJ Moore's 51-yard touchdown in Atlanta was a much-needed shot in the arm for the passing game, but 34 of those yards came after the catch. Through two games, Cam Newton is 0-for-6 on passes that travel 20-plus yards past the line of scrimmage. This is a week for Newton and Norv Turner to try to stretch the defense. The Bengals rank 30th against the pass and have allowed six completions of 20-plus yards.

Defensive key: There was a lot of talk this week about how the Panthers will cover Bengals star wideout A.J. Green when he lines up in the slot. According to Pro Football Focus, he's only done that on 17 of 122 snaps this season. But the topic was a hot one since he scored all three of his touchdowns against the Ravens from the slot. Baltimore's issue was they stayed in man-to-man coverage. The Panthers probably won't. That means when Green slides inside, they need to communicate well and hand him off as he moves through their zone.

Gutsy guess: I have to apologize. I was off by 8 yards with my prediction last week when I wrote: "Not only will DJ Moore make his first regular-season reception, he'll find himself in the end zone on the receiving end of a 43-yard touchdown pass." Hopefully, I can do better this week when I tell you Devin Funchess will have a two-touchdown game. Which is why I picked him in Bryan's little fantasy contest this week. Maybe you want to check out who leads those standings?

Max Henson

Offensive key: I wrote about this in more detail, but I just don't think enough people are talking about Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and his ability to disrupt an offense. Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner is sidelined once again, so Carolina's inexperienced guards will be tested in a big way. Creating room to run and giving Newton time to connect on some deeper throws starts with blocking Cincinnati's All-Pro on the D-line.

Defensive key: Six sacks in the opener. Zero in Week 2. No matter how you slice it, the Panthers need to generate more pressure and make the quarterback uncomfortable. Defensive coordinator Eric Washington will be the first to admit it. Andy Dalton has only been sacked twice in two games and he's got some escapability to go along with a quick trigger, so it won't be easy to get to the spot. But that's Carolina's motto for a reason.

Gutsy guess: A tight end has scored on the Bengals in each of the first two games. Rookie Ian Thomas will make it three in a row, finding the end zone after a nice play-action fake from Newton.

Bryan Strickland

Offensive key: The Panthers are fifth in the NFL in rushing, paced by their quarterback. Newton and McCaffrey have both been credited with 18 rushing attempts through two games, with Newton totaling 100 yards versus 87 for McCaffrey. C.J. Anderson has 10 totes for 66 yards. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will and should continue to say that the offense will take what the defense gives it, but with a relatively settled offensive line, this feels like a Sunday when the Panthers will look to establish some traditional power run to set up some shots at vertical passing.

Defensive key: The other side of the coin is that the Panthers allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time since 2016 with a defensive effort that head coach Ron Rivera termed as lacking in effort. That was against a backup running back - albeit a strong one in Tevin Coleman - and it's the same situation this week. Bengals running back Giovani Bernard - starting in place of Joe Mixon - gashed the Panthers for a career-high 137 yards the last time the teams met in 2014. Carolina can't let it happen again.

Gutsy guess: Run the ball? Stop the run? Those weren't what I'd call "gutsy" call as keys to the game, and predicting that I'll climb up the fantasy standings probably doesn't qualify as relevant to the game. But somewhat in the fantasy football vain, I'll surmise that kicker Graham Gano will have a busy day as the Panthers reach the 30-point plateau for the first time in this young season. The Bengals won their two games by a 34-23 count; they'll lose this one by the same score.

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