John Fox vs. the world
Or at least the Panthers’ organization. As much as both sides tried to downplay Fox’s return to Charlotte, this is one Fox and the Panthers want to win badly. Fox led the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance but his nine-year tenure ended in dysfunction when Jerry Richardson let him coach the 2010 season as a lame duck. Richardson had gutted the roster, and Fox took swipes at the “personnel department.” As Fox would say, “It is what it is.”
Peyton Manning vs. Josh Norman
Manning said he spoke with little brother Eli for tips on facing the Panthers. The first question undoubtedly was, “What number is that rookie corner?” Eli shredded Josh Norman in the Giants’ 36-7 win in Week 3. Norman said he learned a lesson and is not giving receivers as big a cushion, but he can expect another Manning to come after him. The Panthers’ front four can help by getting pressure on Manning – easier said than done.
Steve Smith vs. Champ Bailey
Smith has had some great individual battles with opposing corners, but he hasn’t faced Champ Bailey since 2003 when Bailey was with the Redskins. Smith had four catches for 50 yards in the Panthers’ 20-17 win. Bailey, 34, is a year older than Smith, whose 630 receiving yards rank 13th in the league. Bailey is an 11-time Pro Bowler – one short of the NFL record – and has more pass breakups (198) than any defender since entering the league in 1999. Joseph Person