NFL Carolina Panthers

5 Carolina Panthers Who Will Shine on Sunday

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5 Carolina Panthers Who Will Shine on Sunday

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of optimism brewing in Charlotte during the offseason, with hopes that Ron Rivera and Cam Newton in a critical third year could cause some sense of urgency and create some production, but those expectations have fallen short. Rivera and Newton are under as much criticism as ever, with Rivera being talked about as potentially being usurped midseason and Desmond Howard proposing that the Panthers draft a new quarterback. Apart from the inept decision making of those two, new offensive coordinator Mike Shula has brought in an offense that fails to excite or score, other than in the Giants game, and everyone on the Panthers team excited in that game. The Carolina Panthers need to figure out something soon, or this season may be just like every other in the Rivera era.

Things are not all bad, though. The NFC South is in decline this season, and the Panthers are still tied for second despite a 1-4 record. The defense has played very well this season, especially the front seven, and the secondary had held up well in spite of a lack of talent and shaky depth due to injuries. The Panthers had the league's second-ranked rushing attack before the Cardinals game where the offense struggled mightily, spearheaded by a resurgent DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers have a great chance this week against a limping 1-4 Vikings team, but they also have an equally great chance of blowing. Certain players need to shine brightly on Sunday for the Panthers to win, and they are already starting to glow.

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Luke Kuechly

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Kuechly has an immense challenge this week in facing Adrian Peterson, but if there's anyone who can do it, it's Kuechly. The Vikings will run the ball a lot to take the pressure off their anemic passing game, so Kuechly will have a lot of chances to make plays in the running game. Peterson may still break free once or twice, but for the most part, Kuechly should be able to contain him for under 110 yards. Expect 10-plus tackles from Kuechly.

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Steve Smith

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Smith has been really off this season, and has been a big reason why the offense has had difficulties finding it's groove. Smith is usually the guy who makes things happen, but lately he's been more prone to dropping passes. Smith can't be contained forever, though, and this week is a prime opportunity for a comeback. Smith will face an inexperienced Vikings secondary, and should be able to use his experience to mask his degrading speed and agility. Eight catches, 110 yards.

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Charles Johnson

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Johnson hasn't been getting as much publicity lately with the rise of rookie Star Lutulelei and Greg Hardy's huge game against the Giants, but he's never quiet for long. Johnson can still produce at a high level and is on pace for 10-plus sacks, but he needs to get back on pace for that to stay accurate. Johnson should be able to wreak havoc against big man Phil Loadholt, who has to the size to counter Johnson's power, but not the speed to stop him on the edge. Two sacks, one forced fumble.

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Robert Lester

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Lester came out of nowhere in Week 3 when he was forced into action against the Giants, precariously filling in for Charles Godfrey. The rookie was supposed to be the weak link in the Panthers' retooled secondary, but instead the young blood has posted an interception in each of the last two games. Look for him get another this week against the Matt Cassel-led passing game, which should see more than its share of pressure. Six tackles, two passes defended, one interception.

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DeAngelo Williams

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

DeAngelo Williams was doing phenomenally until last week when the Cardinals' ferocious front seven held him under 40 yards, stripping him from the league leaders in rushing. Williams will try to bounce back this week, but only if the offensive line can bounce back as well. The Vikings used to be impossible to run on when the two Williamses were there, but things are different now in Minnesota. Williams will outrush Adrian Peterson, but not by much. 22 carries, 125 yards, one touchdown.