The Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders meet at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday as two teams who held so much promise, but delivered little in 2012. Cam Newton is playing excellent football, and now it's Oakland's turn to try and stop a quarterback on a tear.
Fans of the Oakland Raiders had a lot to be excited for in 2012. Coming off an 8-and-8 season, and finally having a quarterback who could run a big-play offense, Carson Palmer and co. looked poised to challenge the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West -- what a difference six months makes. Like the Chiefs, the wheels have fallen off. The loss of Michael Bush to free agency, paired with an ineffective Darren McFadden has killed Oakland's running offense, while one of the league's worst defenses continues to struggle.
Offensive X-Factor: Greg Olsen
The Raiders have struggled stopping primary receivers this season, but in most cases have managed to contain second receivers. It's here where Greg Olsen can cause a lot of damage as the hybrid third receiver/ tight end as we've seen so many times in 2012.
Jermaine Gresham, Heath Miller, and Dennis Pitta all had big days against Oakland's defense. With 747 receiving yards this season, Greg Olsen is on pace for a 854 yard season -- the highest for a Panthers' tight end since Wesley Walls in 1999. Steve Smith demands safety help from defenses, allowing Olsen to get the seam.
Last week against the San Diego Chargers, despite facing a talented group of safeties, Olsen caught nine passes for 56 yards. While it wasn't his biggest day, he was vital in second-and-short, and third-down situations. He should have another good day against Oakland.
Carolina run offense vs. Oakland run defense
After regaining his starting position due to Jonathan Stewart's injury, DeAngelo Williams has returned to form. In the last three weeks Williams has totaled 324 all purpose yards, and scored two touchdowns. Continuing to show the big-play ability we've become accustomed to, he's running between a makeshift offensive line and still performing well.
The Raiders are tied for 24th in yards allowed per carry, as opposing backs are averaging 4.5 YPA. They're also 30th in the league in rushing touchdowns allowed -- letting in 17.
Carolina's three-headed rushing attack of DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert, and Cam Newton is too much for Oakland's run defense. With Rob Chudzinski finally willing to lean on the running back more, the result is a varied offense that teams are having trouble stopping -- even with the patchwork OL.
Carolina pass offense vs. Oakland pass defense
Cam Newton is on fire. If you haven't looked at the stats, here they are again -- since Carolina has changed their offensive focus seven weeks ago, Cam has 2,075 passing yards, 337 rushing yards, 16 total touchdowns and two interceptions. Each week teams have thrown their best at him, and each week they've fallen short.
The Oakland Raiders have not managed to stop quarterbacks this year. In fact, opposing QBs are posting an average rating of 97.2 against the Raiders' secondary. This is paired with a defense that has 26 sacks on the season, tied for 23rd in the league.
Between Cam Newton's passing ability, Steve Smith remaining one of the NFL's best receivers, and Greg Olsen becoming the reliable short-yardage option, it's hard to imagine that when Carolina's offense is on the field that Oakland can stop them. Allowing a league-high 28.7 points, the Raiders are a glass cannon -- something we'll see in the defensive preview.