This Sunday, the Green Bay Packers will travel to Bank of America Stadium and take on the Carolina Panthers.  The Packers are currently 7-6 and are three games back of the Vikings in the NFC North. However, the Packers are only one game back of an NFC Wild Card spot and will need to essentially win out in order to have a shot at making the playoffs. The Panthers, on the other hand, are currently 9-4 and are leading the charge for an NFC Wild Card sport and a potential NFC South divisional title. This game is extremely important for both teams and one can expect this matchup to come down to the wire.

There are three specific matchups that can decide this game:

1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Carolina’s Defense

At long last, Aaron Rodgers has returned to potentially save Green Bay’s season. In six games this season, Rodgers threw for 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. Rodgers looked poised for a potential NFL MVP trophy before breaking his collarbone against the Vikings in mid-October. In his absence, Brett Hundley was extremely inconsistent. However, Hundley did manage to go 3-4 as the starter and did just enough to put the Packers in a position where they can still make the playoffs.

Although Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the league, he will have his work cut out for him this week against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers rank tenth in the league in points allowed and have a plethora of pass rushers who will make Rodgers’ Sunday extremely unpleasant. If Carolina is able to generate consistent pressure, expect Rodgers to struggle.

2. The Packers’ Defense Line vs. Jonathan Stewart

Last week, the Packers got torched by running back Isaiah Crowell, who ran for 121 yards on just 19 carries. The week before that, Tampa Bay’s backup running back, Peyton Barber, ran for over 100 yards. This trend of 100 yard rushers is alarming and the Packers will need to improve their rush defense against Carolina. Last week, Carolina ran for 216 yards against the stout Vikings defense. One can assume that Carolina will look to build on that success against the Packers on Sunday

Carolina’s starting running back Jonathan Stewart has struggled throughout the season. The veteran only has 634 rushing yards and is averaging a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. However, Stewart has a rushing touchdown in three straight games and will likely play a big role in Carolina’s red zone offense on Sunday. Last week, Stewart exploded for 103 yards and three rushing touchdowns against the Vikings. It is safe to assume that he will have a large workload against the Packers.

3. Davante Adams vs. Carolina’s Secondary

One bright spot in Green Bay’s offense under Brett Hundley was the emergence of Davante Adams as a number one receiving option. Adams had at least four catches in each of the last six games and will look to continue that streak with Aaron Rodgers back as the starting quarterback. Last week, Adams had ten catches for 84 yards along with two touchdowns. Adams was clearly Hundley’s favorite target and one has to wonder if he will lose production to Jordy Nelson now that Aaron Rodgers is back.

Due to Adams’ recent success, one can expect this elite Carolina defense to focus more heavily on him. Specifically, cornerback James Bradberry will most likely match up against Adams throughout the course of the game. The lanky Bradberry is an extremely physical cornerback who will try to press Adams at the line of scrimmage. Expect their individual matchup to be a war from the opening kickoff.

As for my prediction, I am going to pick Carolina. Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in the NFL. However, one has to assume that he will be somewhat rusty considering the fact that he has not played in over a month. Carolina also has a better defense and I expect their defense to abuse Green Bay’s terrible offensive line.

Prediction: Panthers 30, Packers 27

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