Denver Broncos coach John Fox is downplaying facing his former team for the first time, but there’s no question he would love to add to the Carolina Panthers’ misery. Fox, a red-hot Peyton Manning and the AFC West-leading Broncos hit the road seeking a fourth straight win against Cam Newton and the Panthers, who ended a five-game losing streak last week.
Fox, who led the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance during his nine-year tenure, returns with the Broncos atop the AFC West thanks to Manning. The league's highest-rated passer has thrown three touchdowns in five straight games after leading Denver to a 31-23 win against Cincinnati. He needs two more touchdowns to pass Hall of Famer Dan Marino (420) for second place all-time. This is only the fourth meeting between the teams and the first since 2008, when Carolina cruised to a 30-10 victory.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Broncos -3.5, O/U 47.5
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (5-3): Surprisingly enough, Manning isn’t just back – he’s on pace for a career year. As a result, The Broncos are averaging 31.6 points over the last five games and have outscored opponents 100-37 over the last 10 quarters. The NFL’s only four-time MVP, Manning (2,404 yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs) passed for 291 yards and three scores against Cincinnati – including the go-ahead touchdown to Joel Dreessen early in the fourth. Two of Manning’s touchdowns went to Eric Decker, who has scored all seven of his touchdowns in his last five games. Willis McGahee was held to 66 yards on 23 carries versus the Bengals. He could find more room against a Panthers’ defense that allowed 151 yards on the ground last week and yields 119 rushing yards per game (20th).
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (2-6): Carolina knocked off Washington 21-13 last week for its first win since Sept. 16. Newton was 13-of-23 for 201 yards with a touchdown and ran for another score and the Panthers finally figured out how to finish (they had led in the fourth quarter in three of their previous four games). The defense has been respectable (22.5 points – 16th). The problem is mainly on offense, where Carolina is 27th in scoring (18.6 ppg) after averaging 25.4 points during Newton’s record-breaking rookie season. Veteran wideout Steve Smith has been most affected by Newton’s sophomore slump, evidenced by the fact it took him until last week to haul in his first touchdown catch.
1. Manning’s numbers extrapolated over a full season would lead to career bests in yards (4,808) and completion percentage (69.5) as well as his second-best touchdown total (40).
2. Fox took the Panthers from 1-15 to the Super Bowl in just two years, but his contract wasn’t renewed after Carolina finished 2-14 in 2010 - which led to the team drafting Newton first overall in 2011. Fox still has a home and family in the area.
3. Fox deflected questions with typical coach-speak but his players know better. Said LB Wesley Woodyard, “He doesn't have to say anything; we already know how he feels."
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Key Players to Watch
- FootQues Sun | questionable
Short has been absent from the lineup during the previous two games with a foot injury, and it is unknown if he will draw back into the lineup against the Cardinals on Sunday.
- GroinQues Sun | questionable
Okung sat out the last game with a groin injury, and it is uncertain if he will line up versus the Cardinals on Sunday.
- ToeQues Sun | questionable
Jackson exited the last game with a toe injury, and it is undetermined if he will be active Sunday versus the Cardinals.
- AnkleQues Sun | questionable
Daley has missed the past three games due to an ankle injury, and it is unclear if he will return Sunday against the Cardinals.
- HipQues Sun | questionable
Chinn is dealing with a hip injury, and it is undetermined if he will face the Cardinals on Sunday.
- AnkleOut indefinitely | I-R
McCaffrey suffered a right high-ankle sprain and has been shifted to the injured reserve list. He is without a definitive timetable for recovery.
- HamstringProb Sun | probable
Thomas-Oliver has sat out the previous two games with a hamstring injury, but he is likely to play Sunday versus the Chargers.
- AnkleProb Sun | probable
Miller is dealing with ankle and groin injuries. It is projected that he will be in Sunday's lineup versus the Chargers.
- NeckDoub Thurs | doubtful
Flacco has been activated from the PUP list while recuperating from a disc repair surgery in his neck. He is unlikely to make his season debut Thursday against the Broncos.
- ShinOut indefinitely | I-R
Wilkinson has been ticketed for the injured reserve list due to a shin injury, and it is unknown when he will come back.
- AnkleProb Thurs | probable
Okwuegbunam has missed the past three games due to an ankle injury, but he is likely to make his season debut Thursday versus the Jets.
- HamstringQues Thurs | questionable
Harris sat out the previous game due to a hamstring injury, and it is up in the air if he will take the field against the Jets on Thursday.
- NeckProb Thurs | probable
Harris is nursing injuries to his neck and quad. It is anticipated that he will be available Thursday against the Jets.
- BackProb Thurs | probable
Jackson is battling a back injury, but he is expected to take part in Thursday's contest versus the Jets.
- WristProb Thurs | probable
Marshall is hampered by a wrist injury, but he is projected to be in Thursday's lineup versus the Jets.
- ToeProb Thurs | probable
Lindsay is sidelined due to turf toe, but he is likely to return to action against the Jets on Thursday.