The Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers have become strange bedfellows over the last 10 years. It's hard to find two teams that have exchanged more players, either via trade or free agency. Now the two NFC teams meet again, giving another opportunity for Julius Peppers and Greg Olsen to exact some revenge against their former teams.
Friday's game will also be a chance to take a first look at two of the league's most polarizing quarterbacks, Cam Newton and Jay Cutler. Both are familiar with the constant media criticism, particularly whether they're title-caliber quarterbacks despite good statistics.
Meet the Carolina Panthers
The 2013 iteration is a lot more humble than the one which disappointed last year. There are no full-page ads or Super Bowl declarations. Instead, we've seen a rather contrite Newton leading his team and being vocal about his struggles adjusting to losing in the NFL.
Carolina's offensive line is the biggest question entering Friday night. Last week, the team parted ways with longstanding veteran Geoff Hangartner without a clear vision of how to replace him. They're waiting to see who pops loose in the first round of cuts, but it could be a severe concern for Newton to have a porous offensive front up against a stout Bears' defensive line.
Meet the Chicago Bears
Chicago took a step forward in 2012, but it wasn't enough as a 10-6 team once again finished 3rd in the NFC North, missing the playoffs. But after some tweaks to their roster (including the absence of Brian Urlacher), they boast a lot of offensive talent that could give Carolina trouble.
The Bears are set with their starters, but there are still questions about their depth. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the top wide receivers, but it's anyone's guess how they'll will line up from there. It's expected Earl Bennett will hold onto the third receiver job, but there aren't any guarantees. This will be an excellent chance for the coaching staff to evaluate these depth players, as they'll get opportunities to make plays against a lackluster Panthers' secondary.
Local Takes: Carolina Panthers
As I wrote for Cat Scratch Reader, you're not going to see a whole lot of the Panthers' first team.
You will need to wait a little longer if you were hoping to see the Carolina Panthers' starters for significant time. Ron Rivera said this morning that quarterback Cam Newton will only play for 2-3 series, while starters wont see anything more than 10-15 plays. In other words: Get ready for the Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen show.
Local Takes: Chicago Bears
Steven Schweickert of Windy City Gridiron sees this as an excellent opportunity for the Bears' depth to be tested.
If you wanted to see something for the Bears to handle, this game, you're probably getting it. A matchup against a man-receiver, a matchup against a Cover-2 Destroying Tight End (TM), a matchup against a fierce and heavily-invested defensive line, and oh yeah, a solid running game to take on the linebackers? The Bears should have a pretty good early gauge on the depths of the roster.
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we'd still watch though RT @Da_Meatball_Kid: Sharknado has no chance against Hurricane Ditka— Dane Noble (@WindyCGridiron) August 8, 2013
It may only be preseason, but the betting doesn't stop. The folks over at OddsShark are giving the Panthers just under the obligatory 3-point bump, currently listing them at -2.5.