Head to an amateur craft show or state fair and you're liable to find a lovingly created, but slightly-off cross stitch boasting "home is where the heart is," for the Carolina Panthers this is true. The team is 5-1 at Bank of America Stadium this season, with its sole loss coming at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1. A two-game home stand starts now, and a win over the New York Jets is vital in holding the wild card and ensuring the Panthers control their own fate.
There's plenty to be optimistic about heading into the Week 15 matchup, but the Jets are a mercurially dangerous team with a knack for stepping up when it matters. Head coach Rex Ryan has his defense playing well, and could get some tips from brother Rob on how to stop Cam Newton. It wont be a trap game, and the Panthers will be well prepared -- but there's a lot to fear.
I really wanted to see Geno Smith succeed. It's not because my dad's family grew up on Long Island as Jets fans, but rather that I wanted to see yet another pre-draft character assassination fall flat on its face. The madness with Newton made me naturally disposed to hate scouting reports that harped on attitude more than performance, but Smith hasn't done himself any favors.
Smith isn't bad, per se -- he's just wildly inconsistent. He's posted a passer rating of 80+ in four games, 60-79 in another three and less than 50 in another four. Smith believes he's worked out why he was bad earlier this year, and is moving away from "playing like a robot" in the hopes improvisation can lead the Jets to more wins.
It's a similar path the Carolina Panthers took in 2013. Wins started to pile up when the coaching staff let Cam be Cam, but lets not confuse the physical talents of both players. Newton is unquestionably better, both in the pocket and outside of it -- but it's something to watch on Sunday.
Carolina has the better passing attack and the more accomplished weapons, turning this into a battle of defensive line play. Both teams are equally talented to this end, and Muhammad Wilkerson will give the Panthers a headache. that said, I have faith Carolina can pull through.
Carolina has the far better run game on paper. Look at DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton and they compare favorably to Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Geno Smith -- but again, defensive lines matter.
This is as razor thin as it gets. The Panthers are ninth in rushing, the Jets are 11th -- Carolina is first in run stopping, while New York is second. If you want to major in minors and give the edge the Panthers, fine -- I'm not going to. It's too close to call and both teams are great in this area.
This Week 15 matchup is destined to be an ugly, dirt-covered, bloody game of football. In the past it was unclear if the Panthers could hang in these kind of games, but their 10-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers showed they could.
Carolina's Achilles heel is getting into offensive shootouts, which isn't a risk against the Jets. These are two similarly-constructed teams, but the Panthers have the offensive edge through the air. Don't take this one lightly, but the home team should be able to win.
Carolina Panthers 16, New York Jets 10