It takes the Cardinals as visitors before the Panthers can safely be considered as favorites in a game. But these Cardinals are now .500 on the season and have finally won on the road while the Panthers two wins were against the 1-7 49ers and the Chiefs back in week two.
It's anyone's game and the winner will likely be the team with the least turnovers. With these two teams, that actually favors the Cardinals.
Update: This game is a serious mess. Emmitt Smith has been held out of practice with a sprained ankle and will likely be a game time decision. I am lowering his numbers and projecting more for Hambrick but there may be no way of knowing what will happen on Sunday until it actually happens. At the least, I would expect Hambrick to see more carries than usual this week and there is a chance he gets them all.
The Panthers may opt to use Jeff Chandler instead of Kasay as the kicker but likely won't decide until Saturday afternoon when they would have to declare Chandler as being on the active roster.
Brad Hoover is again questionable with his bad back and while he says he will play, he is not practicing. I am lowering his numbers and he is not a lock to even play. Since Joey Harris is also questionable, Goings could be getting all the carries.
Jake Delhomme will also likely be a game time decision with his slight fracture of the thumb. He is throwing some but not practicing but contends that he will play. I am leaving him as the starter, but there is a chance that Rodney Peete ends up as the quarterback.
Pre-Game Notes - ARZ
The Cardinals come off their fourth win of the year by beating the Giants using good defense and almost no offense. This is definitely the best chance for Arizona to win on the road again this season but these birds don't fly well.
Quarterback:Josh McCown only completed 12 of 24 passes for 90 yards last week and never scored but for the third straight game he never lost the ball. McCown doesn't win games, but he's settled into the role of not losing them. McCown had scored in the four games before last week but still only has six passing scores on the season and only once threw more than one touchdown in a game. His season best is only 231 passing yards.
Running Backs: The rushing load for Emmitt Smith continues to be fairly heavy, with no game less than 19 carries for the past four weeks and he turned in his first two touchdown game as a Cardinal against New York. That gives him eight scores on the year and only twice has he failed to get a touchdown in a game. Troy Hambrick gets only about half a dozen carries a game and has not been a factor in most weeks but has done well enough for the Cardinals to risk Emmitt's health more with his heavy load.
Emmitt suffered a sprained ankle last week but is expected to be fine for this game.
Wide Receivers:Anquan Boldin has been getting significant use since returning three weeks ago, but he's still not been as good as last year. The problem is not his quickness or his cutting so much as it is his speed that has yet to fully return. He had 11 throws last week and caught five of them for 31 yards which is right in line with his production in the first two games. He's only averaging around eight yards per catch - down considerably from his almost 15 yards per catch of 2003.
Larry Fitzgerald only had one catch for two yards last week and his effectiveness relies entirely on the matchup for the week. He is not yet good enough to challenge a talented cornerback but eventually can have success if he receives enough passes. McCown just is not throwing many lately and with Boldin back, Fitzgerald has been almost invisible in two of the three games.
Tight Ends: Since Boldin returned, Freddie Jones has not caught more than one pass per game.
Match Against the Defense: The Cardinals have not been passing well this season and the Panthers at home have only allowed one passing score all season. Forget about McCown throwing a score or even reaching 200 yards. The Panthers problems this season have never been stopping the pass.
There's an excellent chance for Emmitt to continue his scoring ways if not notch his second two touchdown game of the year. The Panthers have already allowed 18 touchdowns to running backs and have yet to stop any team from scoring at least once with their running back. Emmitt will continue with his 20-25 carry pace and should manage at least 80 yards and possibly even crest the 100 yard mark if the Cardinals can control the game.
Pre-Game Notes - CAR
The Panthers finally secured their second win on the season when they defeated the 49ers thanks to Jake Delhomme continuing to play better as of late. Now that Stephen Davis has been placed on injured reserve, there is no pretense that the 2004 Panthers will have a decent rushing game and those bigger numbers by Delhomme are likely to continue.
Quarterback: In the last three weeks, Jake Delhomme has thrown for eight touchdowns and never less than 248 yards while only tossing one interception during that time. Facing the Raiders and 49ers the last two weeks was undoubtedly a help with those numbers but more significant is that the Panthers are almost abandoning the rushing game lately thanks to a lack of healthy, productive backs.
Unfortunately, Delhomme has a hairline fracture on his right thumb and may not play. He'll be evaluated at Wednesday's practice. I am assuming that he does play and will update it as needed. HC John Fox did not yet know which back-up quarterback he would use if needed between Rodney Peete or Chris Weinke.
Running Backs: Now that Stephen Davis and De'Shaun Foster are both on injured reserve, the Panther running game has hit an all-time low. Nick Goings led all runners last week with 42 yards on eight carries while Brad Hoover only had 12 yards on five runs. The only savior in this mess is if Joey Harris can get healthy enough to play. And by "savior", I mean the only runner that has not yet proven that he cannot be of help.
The Panthers offense is moving again and only by the pass. The run now is merely done to keep the defense honest and the Panthers have not scored a rushing touchdown since back in week four. Expect that Goings, Hoover and possibly Harris will mix-n-match on a weekly basis but there's no direction here that would suggest decent fantasy numbers will come from any of them.
Wide Receivers: The commitment by Delhomme to throw at least 35 times a game has gone directly to the benefit of the wideouts. Muhsin Muhammad comes off his season best effort with six catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns last week while Ricky Proehl also turned in his best with six catches for 91 yards. Keary Colbert only gained 57 yards on four catches last week and had the least amount of passes of the three wideouts.
It's notable that Proehl had a nice game since he had no catches in the previous two weeks. His production came in part from what Colbert would have had but his effort last week has to be considered an aberration born of a unique matchup. His 91 yards were more than his total from the previous five games.
Tight Ends: Someone has to block. The Panthers never even threw a pass at a tight end last week.
Match Against the Defense: Since you have to assume that the Panthers will not run much, there's not much sense in matching up the rushing game other than to say that the Cardinal rushing defense has been fairly good this season and has only allowed four scores all year. Don't expect the group to produce much, let alone any individual runner to have decent fantasy numbers.
With Delhomme at least banged up, the passing game is more likely to take a downward turn this week. The Cardinals pass defense is no where near as fun to play against this year and they've really only allowed one big game to Rattay all season. Otherwise, no other opponent has thrown for more than two touchdowns (if any) and only twice has a quarterback exceeded 240 yards.
The way the Cardinals have been soft has been against tight ends but the Panthers never use them. Arizona has allowed six touchdowns to tight ends and only three have gone to wide receivers this year. The past couple of games have been nice with Colbert and Muhammad, but this week already looks lower with a better Arizona defense and with Delhomme ailing, it looks even less attractive.