The intrigue of the 2011 NFL Pre-Season continues Thursday night as two troubled squads kick off Week 3 action. The Bengals are currently mired in a nasty holdout situation with their former franchise quarterback Carson Palmer, and his absence has left the team looking abysmal in all facets of the game through two weeks of action. On the other side of the ball, the Carolina Panthers aren’t fairing much better. Rookie quarterback and first overall pick Cam Newton has endured mixed results thus far, and has yet to show any of the dominant traits which made him endearing to Panthers brass in the off-season.
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Both squads will surely finish out of the playoffs this upcoming season, yet are clearly geared on rebuilding for the future. The Bengals and Panthers both possess a wealth of young talent and like the bulk of pre-season games, this one too will be focused on assessing the youngsters for the future in a full game environment.
Behind centre for the Bengals will likely be former TCU product Andy Dalton. Dalton has looked lost in his opening two starts for the Bengals, having been intercepted three times in both of his team’s devastating losses. Team morale surely has to be running low for the Bengals with Palmer pouting on the sidelines, and preparing for a season which will see them struggle to break 5 wins. Look for the Bengals starters to remain in the game for the bulk of the first half. Depth at quarterback is imperative when considering successful pre-season games, and Dalton will be supplanted by the experienced, and capable Bruce Gradkowski.
For the Panthers, this is a massive game for the former National Champion and reigning Heisman recipient Cam Newton. It is no secret the Panthers are hugely invested in their top pick from this past draft but need to see results if he is going to be the play-caller when their season opens September 11th. Newton has been steady in his first two games, with decent, but inconsistent showings. First-year head coach Ron Riveira has let it be known that the former Auburn product will play three quarters in an attempt to allow him to feel more comfortable within the flow of the game, and better assess if he is ready for full-time duty. Newton’s performance will also be heavily linked to the return of top wide-out Steve Smith to the fold. Smith is undoubtedly a premier wide receiver in the game when utilized correctly and it will be interesting to see if Newton and Smith can develop any early chemistry and exploit a struggling Bengals defense.
Panthers at Bengals Pick:
Currently the Panthers are slated as 2.5-point underdogs heading into this matchup, and I like them getting the points. Cam Newton is aware that this is a huge game for his season and future as a Panther and should be able to utilize his pure talents against the dysfunctional Bengals. Cincinnati has been embarrassing the first two weeks of the season, and though this game will be closer, look for Newton to step up on the road and have the Bengals serve as witnesses to his coming out party.