Rams vs. Panthers 2013 game preview: St. Louis looks for 3rd straight

Sam Greenwood

Sam Bradford and the Rams are trying to get back over .500 on the road against a dangerous Panthers team.

The Carolina Panthers are hosting the St. Louis Rams Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.

Carolina is coming off of an impressive 35-10 hammering of the Minnesota Vikings on the road, getting back to 2-3 after a disappointing loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers are likely not going to catch up to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South race, but could get themselves positioned nicely for a run at a wild card by beating the Rams.

St. Louis has won two straight games, both against AFC South opponents. The Rams trounced the Jacksonville Jaguars at home before hitting the road and pounding the Houston Texans, 38-13. With the consecutive victories, St. Louis is at 3-3 and very much in the postseason discussion.

Meet the Rams

The Rams have had trouble moving the football at times this season, with some of the blame falling on the players and some on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. St. Louis ranks 30th in yards per game with 295.7, only better than Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.

A major issue has been the running game, or complete lack thereof. The Rams rank 28th in rushing yards per contest with 71.8. The leading rusher on the team is Daryl Richardson with 167 yards. The passing game has been better, with Bradford throwing 13 touchdowns against three interceptions.

Defensively, Robert Quinn has really enjoyed a breakout season for the Rams. Quinn leads the team with six sacks and, according to Pro Football Focus, is the best 4-3 defensive end by a wide margin. On PFF's point scale, Quinn has a 22.7 rating, 9.9 points better than second-place DeMarcus Ware. For perspective, the gap between second and 17th is 9.8 points.

Meet the Panthers

Carolina has been one of the hardest teams to figure over the past few seasons. Every year it seems, the Panthers look like one of the more talented teams in the league, but things don't come together quite as expected. This year has been no different, with Carolina sitting at 2-3.

The Panthers have played excellent defense, coming in as the No. 2 scoring defense with only 13.6 points per game allowed. The unit is led by a good front seven, namely Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and Luke Kuechly. Johnson, Hardy and Thomas Davis each have three sacks to lead the team.

On offense, Carolina has a bevy of weapons for Cam Newton to utilize. Newton has four legitimate receiving threats in Greg Olsen, Brandon LaFell, Steve Smith and Ted Ginn. Each of the aforementioned four have more than 200 receiving yards and eight combined touchdowns.

Local take: St. Louis

Ryan Van Bibber of Turf Show Times talks about the disappearance of Tavon Austin:

Austin's a rookie, a talented one at that. He'll get the learn the ins and outs of the pro-level game, now that he's not facing Big 12 defenses anymore. This is more a lesson in hype, and your usual October reminder to take anything said in August with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Local take: Carolina

James Dator of Cat Scratch Reader writes about the Panthers' solid defense:

In their two wins the defense has allowed just 10 total points against the interception-prone Giants and Vikings, while giving up 58 in the team's three losses. It's easy to overlook the performances as good defenses beating up bad teams, but Carolina hasn't faced terrible offenses in 2013. Across the five games the Panthers have faced an offense with an average scoring ranking of 18th, scoring 21.9 points per game. This includes the defense's dominance, and still shows that teams are averaging over a touchdown less against Sean McDermott's unit.

Follow the fun

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

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@TurfShowTimes

@CatScratchReadr

Prediction

Both teams could really use another win, with the NFC playoff picture so congested at the bottom. St. Louis is playing well, but can it win a second consecutive road game? Carolina has an opportunity to come home and snatch a victory before playing a winless Tampa Bay team, giving it a great chance to get into the mix. Ultimately, this should be a close game that gets decided late. Normally, that would spell doom for the Panthers, but it is tough to believe in the Rams offense.

Pick: Carolina 23, St. Louis 21

Odds

The Panthers are favored by a touchdown over the Rams at home, according to Odds Shark.

Next Week

Carolina is on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, and the Rams host the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night.

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