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Carolina Panthers v Houston Texans

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It’s a big game for the Panthers on Sunday, as they travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys and their fifth ranked offense. Kick-off is set for 1:00 on WBT. “America’s Team” is 2-1 on the season after a dominant win over the Eagles on Monday Night Football, while the Panthers are undefeated at 3-0 and well-rested after a Thursday night win over the Texans.

The Cowboys are rolling thanks to the return of All-Pro quarterback Dak Prescott, who missed most of last season with a broken ankle. He’s thrown for 878 yards and six touchdowns, and is the straw that stirs the Cowboys drink. “He’s the guy their offense goes through,” said Panther safety Jeremy Chinn. “They’ve got weapons on their offense, they’re a high-powered offense – but it starts with Dak.”

Those weapons include four time Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and of course Ezekiel Elliott. The All-Pro teams with Tony Pollard to form a potent 1-2 punch, combining for 335 yards in the last two games. The Panthers will counter with a defense that is ranked number one in the NFL in almost every category, including rushing yards allowed. They give up just 45 yards a contest on the ground. “Very athletic, penetrating d-line,” said Elliott. “Linebackers that can run sideline to sideline. They do a really good job on early downs getting other teams behind the chains.”

While the Cowboys will have their superstar running back on the field, the Panthers will not. Christian McCaffrey is out with a hamstring injury, so rookie Chuba Hubbard will start in his place. He and the Panthers offense will be up against a much improved Cowboys defense. After finishing 31st in the league last season, the Cowboys brought in former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn as their new coordinator. That move has paid off – the Cowboys now lead the NFL with eight takeaways and are 6th in rushing defense allowing just 70 yards a contest. They’ve got a banged up front seven right now though, and have had trouble getting to the quarterback. Star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and middle linebacker Keanu Neal are among those sidelined. But a pair of rookies have stepped up big in the last two games, so keep an eye out for defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa and linebacker Micah Parson. Panther coach Matt Rhule calls Parson a game changer. “He’s an unbelievable athlete,” said Rhule. “Six foot four, runs a 4-3, is aggressive. They can play him off the ball, he can rush the passer. So he’s a special, special talent.”

The Cowboys passing defense has struggled, they’re allowing 332 yards per game, that’s next to last in the league. But they’ve got a star in the making in second year cornerback Trevon Diggs. The former Alabama standout has had an interception in all three games this season, including a pick six against the Eagles.

There is a lot of excitement surrounding this game – the Cowboys are always in the media spotlight, and the undefeated Panthers are finally getting some national attention themselves. But don’t think for a minute that they’re buying into any of the hype. “It’s another game, it’s another Sunday, it’s another opportunity for us to continue to make a name for ourselves,” said cornerback Donte Jackson. “We obviously know what kind of organization Dallas is, but we’re just blocking out the noise and focusing on another game this Sunday and going 1-0 this week.”

by Sharon Thorsland