Coming off a thrilling Monday night win over Tom Brady and the Patriots, the Panthers have surged towards the top of the conference and currently sit just behind the Saints in the NFC South at 7-3. The Dolphins, mired in the developing Jonathan Martin bullying scandal, overcame a humiliating loss to the Buccaneers for a Week 11 win over the Chargers, and are still very much in the thick of the AFC wildcard race at 5-5.
Meet the Dolphins
With the bullying scandal having already claimed Martin and guard Richie Incognito, a thin offensive line had to fight through San Diego without veteran center Mike Pouncey, who missed the game with an illness. Pouncey spent several days in the hospital, but is back with the team and looks to have a good chance to play against the Panthers. That's good news for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose inconsistent sophomore campaign has both been both thrilling and maddening for Miami fans. That inconsistency has bothered big-play receiver Mike Wallace, who has topped 100 yards receiving just twice this season and has found the endzone only once.
The Dolphins hold a formidable pass rush, with Olivier Vernon, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Cameron Wake all having at least three sacks on the season. No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan, a pass-rushing defensive end, has failed to acclimate as quickly as expected and has gotten to the quarterback just once this season. The team has 30 sacks on the year, but still ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in total defense.
Meet the Panthers
Cam Newton is developing into one of the league's top young passers, and took a huge step by leading a late touchdown drive to pull past the Patriots on Monday night. During the team's win streak, he's completed 67 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and three picks. He's complimented by a top-10 rushing attack, spearheaded by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Newton's played well, but it is Carolina's defense that is powering the surge. Before New England put up 20, the Panthers hadn't allowed more than 15 points in any of their last five games and are allowing a league best 13.5 points per contest on the season.
Local Takes: Dolphins
Charles Clay, Miami's unheralded but increasingly dependable tight end/fullback hybrid, had a big game against the Chargers, which included a beastly 39-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Sean Donovan at The Phinsider likes what he sees from the emerging third-year player.
In addition to the big touchdown, Clay was a consistent, impactful part of the Dolphins' passing attack the entire night. Of his 90 total receiving yards, 77 came after the catch. He forced five missed tackles, displaying a tough running ability to go along with his unique athleticism. He caught six of his seven targets and achieved a first down four times.
Quietly, Clay's become Miami's third leading receiver and now has the team lead in touchdown receptions. His development into a viable option at tight end/split receiver is a huge credit to a player who had a disastrous 2012 season.
Local Takes: Panthers
James Dator at Cat Scratch Reader is plenty enthused over Carolina's Monday night win, but it's the development of Newton that really has him fired up.
As great as the win feels, I'm more excited for Cam Newton. He's endured endless piles of BS and criticism about his play extending far beyond normal evaluation. Newton needed a signature win on national TV to show people why it's a tossup between Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Newton for the league's best young quarterback -- and he outplayed Tom Brady on football's largest stage. Cam 2.0 was shown off all to see, and it was a thing of beauty.
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These analysts are confused on how Patriots lost to Ted Ginn. It's because they don't know, when you sign Ginn, you get his whole family.— Kevin Nogle (@thephinsider) November 19, 2013
ESPN should also discuss the leg whip play that gave the Pats a touchdown. That was a no-call benefit for NE, yet goes unmentioned.— Cat Scratch Reader (@CatScratchReadr) November 19, 2013
@OmarKelly - Dolphins beat writer
NOBODY is giving up on Ryan Tannehill. BUT...if he doesn't produce an 85 passer rating, and lead Dolphins to 9-7 record, get him competition— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) November 20, 2013
@josephperson - Panthers beat writer
Go listen to Dean Blandino's comments or read transcript about Kuechly play. He had several chances to say it was the right call and didn't.— Joe Person (@josephperson) November 20, 2013
"Someone's got to get that last Wild Card spot," said Tyson Clabo. "Why not us?" Why not, indeed. A trip to the playoffs might just be the only thing that can save Jeff Ireland's job right now, maybe Joe Philbin's too. The Dolphins are .500, and they've won two of three games since the bullying thing surfaced. However, Clabo happens to be part of an offensive line that does as poorly protecting the quarterback as it does preventing harassment.
So my answer to Clabo, for this week anyway, would be: because the Panthers defensive line will punish you in ways not even Richie Incognito could imagine.
The pick: Panthers
The streaking Panthers are 4½-point road favorites, according to Oddsshark.com.