Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte - TV: ESPN
*Keys to the game: At the heart of the Carolina defense is the muscle behind the machine, and LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are energizer bunnies who are tough to beat because of their speed and instincts. Defenses have tried to lure Colts QB Andrew Luck into throwing between the numbers but the Panthers let their cornerbacks go toe-to-toe with receivers with total commitment to stopping the run first. Luck should be able to get a rhythm if he gets the ball out quickly and uses his tight ends.
The Panthers don't have a home-run threat outside, but six different receivers have a 20-plus-yard reception from QB Cam Newton. The Colts have just 10 sacks and surrendered an NFL-high 32 completions of 20-plus yards. Carolina brings the hammer in the running game with Jonathan Stewart and Newton, averaging 144.7 yards per game on the ground to lead the NFL. Big plays have come from WR Ted Ginn, who hasn't lost the speed that made him a first-round pick out of Ohio State.
*Matchup to watch - Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Panthers CB Josh Norman: Hilton caught two long touchdown passes last week and has been the one constant with Luck. Norman has swagger in surplus and is tied for NFL lead with four interceptions.
*Player spotlight - Panthers DT Kawann Short: Picked out by Colts coach Chuck Pagano for his play of late, Short has 5.0 sacks and could be a headache for a Colts blocking crew chewed up for 15 sacks this season.
*Fast facts: Luck and Newton were No. 1 overall picks in back-to-back drafts (2011, 2012). ... Luck has been hit more than any quarterback in the past three seasons.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Carolina hogs the ball and the Colts keep it close before wearing down in the second half as QB Cam Newton and RB Jonathan Stewart get their second wind.
*Our pick: Panthers 23-18.