CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-3) AT NEW YORK JETS (4-6)
SERIES HISTORY: Seventh regular-season meeting. Series tied, 3-3. The Panthers' first win as a franchise came against the Jets on Oct. 15, 1995, at Clemson's Memorial Stadium. These teams last met Dec. 15, 2013, a 30-20 Panthers win in Charlotte. The Jets and Panthers, who meet only once every four years, have had five of their six games decided by double digits, with the lone exception a 13-12 Jets win in 2001.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers have a stout defense, ranked second in the league behind the Jaguars, but they are only 29th in the league with nine takeaways. The Panthers want to maintain their strong defensive play against a team that can have trouble scoring at times. Look for the Panthers to use some of the energy they might have stored up coming off the bye week to crank up the defensive pressure. They have been pleased with how the defense has performed, but they have insisted that there are more elements that they can include to make the defense even better.
The Panthers' offense will look to maintain the rushing attack that was uncovered in some ways in the most recent game. That means the Panthers should try to have a steady diet of RB Jonathan Stewart carrying the ball.
The Jets don't have many advantages over quarterback Cam Newton defensively, but one might be his propensity to turn the ball over this season (11 interceptions, one lost fumble). He also has a tendency to hold the ball loosely on scrambles, so the Jets should try to punch the ball out from behind.
If the Jets can slow the game down with their running game, something they haven't been able to do all season, it could keep the game close into the fourth quarter.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers C Ryan Kalil vs. Jets NT Steve McLendon. There are strong indications that Kalil will return from a neck injury. If so, it will be up to McLendon to test him. McLendon is an eighth-year pro, so he should be equipped to make it difficult on Kalil if the former All-Pro center isn't up to snuff. With C Tyler Larsen, who had filled in for Kalil, nursing an injury, this could be worth monitoring.
--Jets TE Eric Tomlinson vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly. Tomlinson isn't even the Jets' starting tight end, but he is a crucial run-blocker for their offense. The 26-year-old Kuechly, a four-time Pro Bowler, is a household name and Carolina's main run-stuffer, with 71 tackles. If the Jets have any shot to run the ball effectively, Tomlinson will have to get a hat on Kuechly on most plays.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers WR Russell Shepard. There's a revolving situation at receiver for the Panthers, so it figures to be Shepard's turn to shine. This comes in the wake of the season-ending injury to rookie WR Curtis Samuel. Shepard could be the biggest downfield threat, so if there are connections when trying to stretch the field, he could be the beneficiary.
FAST FACTS: Panthers QB Cam Newton passed for 254 yards and four TDs, with no interceptions, and added 95 rushing yards in Week 10. In his past four games vs. the AFC East, he has 1,071 passing yards (267.8 per game), eight TDs and one INT. He is the fourth QB in NFL history with 4,000 rushing yards (4,002). ... Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey (rookie) leads all NFL RBs with 57 receptions and ranks fifth with 433 receiving yards. He ranks fourth among NFL rookies in scrimmage yards (639) and TDs (5). ... Panthers WR Devin Funchess had 92 receiving yards and two TDs in Week 10, his second multi-TD game in 2017. ... Panthers DE Julius Peppers has two sacks, two fumble recoveries and two passes defensed in four career games vs. the Jets. ... Panthers LB Luke Kuechly has two interceptions in the past three games. He leads the team with 71 tackles. Since entering the NFL in 2012, he is the only player with 700 tackles (764) and 15 INTs (15). ... Jets QB Josh McCown's 69 completion percentage is the second highest in the AFC. He is one of four QBs with 12 TD passes (14) and three rushing TDs (3). ... Jets RB Bilal Powell has 365 scrimmage yards (91.3 per game) with three TDs in the past four games vs. the NFC. ... Jets RB Matt Forte has 789 scrimmage yards (157.8 per game) and five TDs in five games vs. Carolina. He aims for a sixth game in a row vs. Carolina with 90 scrimmage yards. ... Jets S Marcus Maye is the only rookie safety with 45 tackles (49) and two interceptions. ... Jets DE Kony Ealy had 14 sacks in three seasons with Carolina (2014-16).
PREDICTION: The Jets are better at home (3-2) than on the road but the Panthers are on a three-game roll, with Newton coming off his best outing of the season. The struggling Jets will go down quietly.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 27-13.