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The Spy: Carolina Panthers: Predators or Prey? 

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Penned up and pent up. Rage… Burns. The Buffalo Bills rest precariously on the precipice of a lost season, a catastrophic harbinger of changes to come if that does happen. There is but one singular path if the Bills hope to continue into the playoffs and execute a championship thrust. That path is winning out. There is no other option. The Carolina Panthers face a similar fate, but are in an even more unfavorable position. While the Bills coaches have felt the temperature of their seats elevating for weeks now, the Panthers seem to have already gone down scapegoat avenue following the dismissal of offensive coordinator Joe Brady. To make matters worse, the Carolina quarterback situation is akin to a pen exploding in your whites in the laundry. 

On the other hand, the Panthers defense seems to be mostly immune to problems of any sort. The unit is currently ranked second in the league overall, behind only the Bills. I am hard-pressed to remember an NFL season that has been (and will continue to be) a roller coaster ride like the 2021 season has been. Never has drawing analytical conclusions or even general conclusions about a team been more difficult. Therefore, I no longer will be asserting which team I deduce to be superior, but rather, supplying the knowledge of what that team appears to be. That said, who are these Carolina Panthers and how are they predators?

SPY 1: Domineering Defense

The Carolina Panthers defense is extremely well built, performs consistently, and is carrying the entire team. Most defenses in the NFL have one thing that they do extremely well and do it at a level far better than the other areas of their defense. The Bills, for example, excel in their secondary play. Meanwhile, the Panthers are elite or above-average in every aspect of the defense. Rarely is a holistic high-performance defense sustainable, yet the Panthers have proven to be an exception to the rule. Per Lineups, the Panthers allow a measly 177 passing yards per game, which is a huge problem for the pass-centric Buffalo Bills offense.

The Panthers secondary is comprised entirely of Super stars or burgeoning stars. Safety Jeremy Chinn and Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Jaycee Horn (currently on IR), and C.J. Henderson are all performing at a high level. Meanwhile, linebackers Brian Burns and Haason Reddick are absolute terrors. Brian Burns dominates the game like Luke Kuechly, though I would argue Burns is more optimized for it, playing on a bigger frame and with more durability. He is essentially Matt Milano but bigger, meaner, and stronger. Moreover, Burns can be used as a traditional linebacker and as an end rusher. This flexibility makes defending him far more difficult.

Meanwhile, Reddick leads the Panthers with 10.5 sacks and is the type of rusher this Bills offensive line tends to struggle with. Reddick has improved with each passing season of his career and has reaped the rightful rewards. Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow coaches a hyper-aggressive style of defense. There are few 4-3 defenses more honed than that of the Panthers. The Panthers only allow 21 points per game, meanwhile the Bills score 28 points per game, at present. The Bills will have their hands completely full here.

VERDICT

The Bills have little choice but to fight fire with fire. The Panthers defense is still quite effective at run stopping and the Bills have not shown they can do so consistently well. Worse still, Josh Allen may play this game on a busted twig (turf toe) and have his ability to run be diminished. The Panthers have been so good at stopping, mitigating, or defending the pass that many teams have changed their gameplans and purposefully passed less. On the contrary here, the Bills should aim to overwhelm this secondary and defense with a massive volume of passing.

SPY 2: Known Unknown: Who is at QB?

Earlier this week, ESPN Fantasy reported that the Carolina Panthers will split quarterbacking duties between P.J. Walker and Cam “I’m Back” Newton. Normally, this type of statement would be met with mockery, laughter, and dramatic outbursts of frustration. Is this a problem for the Panthers? Of course it is. However, do not fail to look at the other side of that coin. This presents problems for the Bills. Now, potentially, the Bills defense must prepare for two passers.

Preparing for two quarterbacks instead of one numerically lowers the chances of success since the focus is cut in half. No two quarterbacks are the same and preparation for Walker cannot, and will not, be the same as for Cam Newton. Even more puzzling is how this quarterback soup has not had a negative effect on the Panthers receivers. Both main targets, Robbie Anderson and DJ Moore, have played well thus far in 2021. Moore is coming off hot performances in back-to-back games and those games were ones where quarterbacking was a significant issue. 

DARK-HORSE BONUS POINT

The Carolina Panther Pipeline may be open forever in the minds and hearts of Bills fans, but the Buffalo-Carolina connection is completely severed at this point. There are no more legacy links between the two teams. Even ownership is different at this point.

THREAT RATING

Each opponent will be ranked on a 1-10 scale. On this scale, the higher the number = The greater the threat to the Bills specifically.

Panthers Threat Rating = 5

In closing, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process and go Bills.

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