Packers vs. Panthers: Three things to watch in Week 15

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 08: Aaron Rodgers
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 08: Aaron Rodgers /

Three things to watch in the Green Bay Packers’ Week 15 matchup with the Carolina Panthers.

The Packers needed another overtime victory to keep their season alive, defeating the winless Cleveland Browns 27-21 last week.

This week, they remain on the road and head to Carolina to take on the 9-4 Panthers.

The Packers hold a 9-5 overall record against the Panthers, winning six of their last nine against them.

Green Bay must run the table and get some help if they plan on playing in January and the quest to that goal beings with a familiar face back at quarterback.

Here are my three things to watch.

Aaron Rodgers

He’s back! Aaron Rodgers missed the Packers’ last seven games after suffering a broken collarbone.

On Tuesday night via Instagram, Rodgers announced he has been medically cleared to return after undergoing surgery to repair the broken bone.

Without Rodgers, the Packers struggled immensely, winning only three games, two of which were in overtime. The team averaged a lousy 16 points per game.

Nevertheless, the two-time MVP returns with Green Bay still in playoff contention in a must-win game against the Panthers.

"“He’s been preparing himself for this moment,” Mike McCarthy expressed to the media on Wednesday. “He’s preparing to play in the game.”"

Prior to his injury, Rodgers threw for 1,385 yards, 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

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The return of Rodgers will reignite the Packers’ potent offense. One player that will make an immediate impact upon his first game is veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

Nelson and Brett Hundley were unable to get things going during their seven-game stretch. Before Rodgers got injured, Nelson caught six touchdown passes, since he has yet to find the end zone.

Rodgers also steps back on the field with a couple of new weapons that will continue to improve with him under center: Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.

The rookie running back duo played a huge role in the Packers’ three victories without Rodgers. With him back, defenses must be on their heels at all times.

Containing Cam 

Cam Newton has been inconsistent for the Panthers, but still has his team tied atop the NFC South.

Carolina’s ground game helped them defeat the last week. Jonathan Stewart rushed for 103 yards and three scores, while Newton rushed for 70 yards.

Newton only threw for 137 yards, his third consecutive game throwing for less than 200 yards.

His below-average passing numbers could be linked with his shoulder injury. Remember, Newton underwent arthroscopic surgery in March, but that hasn’t held him out this season.

What makes Newton dangerous against the Packers is his versatility. Green Bay is notorious for struggling against mobile quarterbacks and Newton has no trouble finding the end zone with his feet.

In three regular season meetings with the Packers, Newton has rushed for 151 yards and two scores, averaging nearly six yards a carry. He will be on the move often, if nothing is available downfield.

The Panthers are in a must-win mode, even though they are 9-4. They don’t have the tiebreaker with the New Orleans Saints, who are currently in first in the NFC South and the Atlanta Falcons are breathing down their neck at 8-5.

Damarious Randall

Yes, you should have your eyes on Damarious Randall this week and it’s not because he has been struggling.

After last season and the start of this one, people’s patience with Randall grew thin. But his play as of late has everybody praising him.

Zachary Jacobson, who covers the Packers for Cheesehead TV, said it best regarding Randall’s progression.

Last week Randall kept Browns wideout Josh Gordon in check and limited him to only one catch. Gordon finished the game with three grabs, but only one was in Randall’s coverage.

The Packers secondary is extremely thin, especially with rookie Kevin King recently put on injured reserve and Davon House’s transverse fracture in his back.

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Randall will need to continue to play at this level for the remainder of the season or teams will go back to torching the secondary.