Coming off big week 1 victories for both clubs, I expect this game to be a highly contested, physical battle. This should be a low-scoring defensive battle as both sides stubbornly attempt to gain field position through punishing ground assaults.
Again this year, Carolina is a darling of the national media. Many prognosticators pick the Panthers to win the Southeast division and make a return trip to the playoffs. What exactly are they basing this rosy outlook on? Delhomme is back under center, and while certainly not the possessor of great natural gifts, he is a winner. But, everyone should remember that at his best, Delhomme resembled a poor-man's Brett Favre with a penchant to throw several balls a game up for grabs. This troublesome tendacy appeared much more often against stout defenses.
Wecome the Chicago Bears! A once again healthy defense, limited the explosive Payton Manning led Colt's offense to a measley 13 points in a national telecast this past Monday. There are no comparisions between the offenses run by the Colts and the Panthers. Look for the Bears defense to give up on more than 14 points to the Panthers this Sunday, especially with the Panther's #1 offensive weapon, Steve Smith still serving out a suspension for cold-cocking his teamate, CB Ken Lucas.
So, this battle hinges on the Bears offense. Can Kyle Orton lead the Bears to more than 14 points? Orton begua to rehabilitate his image last Monday as a QB who possesses NFL starting caliber ability. Another good, solid showing Sunday will only add additional converts. The Bears were wise to name Orton their starting QB this year. Orton gained valuable game experience as a rookie and has had an addtional 2 years to sit on the sidelines and learn the game of football on the NFL level. More and more this is becoming the recipe for a successful NFL career for a QB. Starting QB jobs in today's game are littered with guys who sat for several years honing their crafts. One only needs to look at Jake Delhomme, along with Derek Anderson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, John Kitna, Marc Bulger, & JT O'Sullivan.
The Bears ask Orton to effeciently manage their offense and not make mind-blowing mistakes such as experienced by previous starter, Rex Grossman. As demonstrated against the Colts, the Bears have a running game this year that will force defenses to commit a safety to the line of scrimmage. Orton has the ability to take advantage of such a scheme and will be looking for his twin pass-catching threats, Desmond Clark and Greg Olson to keep the chains moving.
While utilizing this ground and pound attack - eventually the Bears will seize the opporunity to unleash the biggest playmaker in this game, Devin Hester for a deep route or trick play. The Bears should be able to pile up 21 points against a somewhat suspect Carolina defense.
Julius Peppers is looking to regain his All-Pro form of several years ago - but that didn't happen in week 1 against the Chargers. The Panthers defense should be described as average. The secondary is relatively week in the back end. The starting safeties are cast-off types and the cornerbacks are getting up in age. Their best linebacker was foreced to retire due to concussion problems, and their defensive line is in flux due to the trade of Kris Jenkins and the retirment of Mike Rucker.
While it seems silly that every year national media types base this season's predictions on last year's results - one has to wonder why the Panthers are excluded from this type of thinking. Every year, "experts" expect the Panthers to run roughshod over the Southeast division, but they end up disappointing. I've seen nothing so far to be excited about. A win on the road against a highly overrated Chargers team was a quality victory, but one that appeared a bit lucky as well. The Bears on the other hand left no doubt as to who was the superior team in their tilt against the Colts.
This one will stay close until the end of the 3rd quarter when a Delhomme INT will be returned for a TD by the Bears. Final score:
Bears - 24
Panthers - 14