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Packers look for revenge against Packers

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CHARLOTTE — It’s almost like the Carolina Panthers are currently on a revenge tour.

First, they finally knocked off their nemesis, Seattle. Then, they avenged last year’s embarrassing Monday Night Football loss to the Eagles. Now, they get a shot at the Packers, who didn’t give the Panthers much of a shot last October.

Playing at Lambeau Field, Green Bay led 21-0 after one quarter and 38-3 after the third. On Sunday, the Packers will be in Charlotte where things aren’t what they were.

“Last year was last year,” Panthers safety Roman Harper said. “We were a completely different team, mentally. This year we’re a more confident group. We’re a better group. This is probably the best Carolina team, talent-wise, I’ve seen since I’ve been in the league.”

The 10-year veteran was in his first season with the Panthers when they were blown out at Lambeau last year. Now, he’s one of just four starters remaining from the defense that began that game. Harper, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will be surrounded by a better unit on Sunday.

Last October, defensive tackle Kawann Short was still coming off the bench and cornerback Josh Norman was out with a concussion while defensive back Bene’ Benwikere sat with an ankle injury. His absence was the most glaring as safety-turned-nickel Charles Godfrey was burned time and again in the slot. It didn’t go much better for Antoine Cason on the outside. His replacement this year may also struggle with the Packers’ speed, but at least former Bear Charles Tillman has plenty of experience facing arguably the best quarterback in the league.

“I think Aaron Rodgers is good, but I don’t think he’s unstoppable,” Tillman said.

Rodgers sure wasn’t last week, which may add to the Panthers’ challenges. The Broncos held him to a career-worst 77 yards in a 29-10 loss to Denver Sunday night. But he hasn’t lost back-to-back starts in the regular season since October 2010.

If the Panthers can change that number to 2015, it could be a big step for their Super Bowl hopes. It would give Carolina a two-game lead at the top of the NFC, and because the first tiebreaker for home-field advantage in the playoffs is head-to-head meetings, the Panthers would have an even bigger cushion over the Packers.

“This game is important and it could have implications as we get into January and we’ll be aware of it,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “But we’ll focus on what it means now and hopefully be able to stay in the now. Not get ahead of ourselves, handle the outside noise, handle all the folks wanting to let them know they’re doing great.”

Being 7-0 is great for a franchise that until two weeks ago claimed 5-0 as its best start. It’s been especially good if you’re a Panthers fan with a thirst for revenge. But it could get even better.

“We’re a different team that played Philadelphia, we’re a different team that played Seattle,” Rivera said. “We’re a different team that’s going to play Green Bay.”

SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 8-4. The Panthers have won just two of seven meetings in Carolina.

GAME PLAN

–The Panthers dug themselves a 21-0 hole in the first quarter in Green Bay last year, so getting off to a better start is imperative. So is keeping Packers QB Aaron Rodgers off the field, which means the Panthers need to control the clock with their top-ranked rushing attack. The Packers are susceptible against the run, so if the Panthers ground and pound, it could open things up for QB Cam Newton to have some success through the air.

Denver shut down Green Bay last week, but as good as Carolina’s defense is, it’s not built like the Broncos’ speedy 3-4 unit. The Panthers won’t likely be able to force Rodgers into many mistakes, but they have to get at least some pressure on him. This is a big spot for DE Jared Allen, who knows Rodgers well from many battles in the NFC North. Assuming CB Josh Norman continues to shut down one side of the field, the other Panthers’ defensive backs have to contain Rodgers’ other weapons.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Panthers rushing offense, which ranks No. 1 in the league with a 113.7 yards per game average, vs. Packers rushing defense, which is tied for 25th with an average of 124.4 yards allowed.

–Panthers CB Josh Norman, who hasn’t allowed a touchdown to an opponent’s top receiver this season, vs. Packers WR Randall Cobb, who torched the Norman-less Panthers for 121 yards and a touchdown last October.


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