Broncos vs. Panthers 2012 game preview: John Fox returns to Carolina

Harry How

Former Panthers head coach John Fox is heading back to Carolina for the first time since leaving the franchise in 2010.

The Denver Broncos travel to Carolina this week to face the Panthers in a game that's a homecoming for head coach John Fox, who lead the Panthers to a Superbowl birth in 2003, and was the most successful coach in franchise history.

Typically when you have a surging team visiting a struggling opponent, it could be looked at as kind of a 'trap game,' but Sunday's contest has special meaning for John Fox, who visits Carolina for the first time since parting ways with the organization following a 2-14 season in 2010, and won't allow his team to be underprepared. Fox may not have been fired, but area writers believe that there's enough bad blood between the former head coach and Carolina's ownership that there's a chance he will aim to have his 5-3 Broncos hang as many points on the two-win Panthers as possible.

Meet the Carolina Panthers

On the road last week, the Carolina Panthers posted their second win of the season, beating the Washington Redskins 21-13. This may be a two-win team, but they're arguably the most talented two-win team in the NFL, with the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears both needing last second field goals to beat them.

Cam Newton's sophomore season has been described as a 'slump,' but the reality is that the second-year quarterback is still on pace for 3,800 yards passing and 700 yards rushing. His aim has been scattered, but in recent weeks with the establishment of a power running game, Newton has been the benefactor.

Meet the Denver Broncos

An off-season in doubt, and a gamble has paid off in spades for the Denver Broncos. Of course we're talking about Peyton Manning, and his ascent from possible comeback player of the year, to now possible NFL MVP after eight weeks. The quarterback that some believe to be the greatest who has ever played is putting up one of his best seasons -- he's on pace for 4,800 yards passing and 40 touchdowns, all while completing 69.5 percent of his passes; but it goes beyond that.

Stellar defensive play has offered Manning something he never had in Indianapolis -- an environment where he doesn't need to be 'the guy' every week just to keep his team in the contest. Second-year linebacker Von Miller is a large reason for this, as last year's defensive rookie of the year has nine sacks in just eight games. On paper, the Broncos have three losses, but they're one of the best teams in the NFL.

Local Takes: Carolina Panthers

Jaxon from Cat Scratch Reader says this about Cam Newton, and his improvement when getting the ball out quickly:

When Newton throws the pass within 2.5 seconds he completes the pass 2.1% more often than when he takes longer than 2 seconds to throw it. That essentially says that unlike most QBs, Newton does not become more accurate the quicker he gets the ball out.

Local Takes: Denver Broncos

Bronco Mike from Mile High Report says this about the Broncos' red zone offense and its effectiveness.

Why our offense is so dangerous in the Redzone and more specifically in goal to go situations, we can give a lot of looks with a lot of different personnel groupings. In the end though, it boils down to simple concepts like I have outlined here consistently beating the competition for points.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Cat Scratch Reader and Mile High Report, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@CatScratchReadr

@MileHighReport

Prediction

Joel Thorman think the Broncos take this one handily:

It's amazing how every NFL game seems to have intriguing story lines. This one, for example, with Peyton Manning, this generation's great quarterback, and Cam Newton, the next generation's (presumed) great quarterback. Except, things haven't really worked out like that for Cam. He's completing less than 60 percent of his passes, has more interceptions than touchdowns and throws for less yards per game this year than he did last year. Cam's not there yet.

The pick: 34-23, Broncos

Odds

The Broncos are favored by four points, despite being on the road. This according to OddsShark.

Next Week

The Carolina Panthers stay at home to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos return home to face the San Diego Chargers.

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