Titans' offense vs. Panthers' defense: The Panthers' linebackers are without a doubt the biggest weakness on their defense. They lack speed at the position, so short passes to playmakers in space will consistently move the ball against them. For example, with just over six minutes left in the Vikings-Panthers game last week, with the Vikings facing 2nd-and-15 on their own 49-yard line in a tied game, Vikings receiver Percy Harvin crossed from the right side of the field underneath Panthers linebacker James Anderson, getting open on the edge of the left flat. Harvin caught a quick pass from quarterback Christian Ponder and ran for the first down, continuing the drive and helping the Vikings get into position to pick up their game-winning field goal.
If the Panthers had more speed at linebacker, they would have wrapped Harvin up more quickly and put the Vikings in a must-pass 3rd-and-long situation,greatly decreasing the Vikings' chances of scoring. If the Titans learn from the Vikings, flexing Chris Johnson out wide more often and find ways to get him open in space underneath the defense like Harvin, they will have a much easier time moving the ball. If they can get Javon Ringer moving the ball up the middle of the offensive line as well, it will further stress the Panthers' linebacking corps.
Titans' defense vs. Panthers' offense: Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is causing a lot of lost sleep in Nashville this week. His sprinkling of read-option plays into the playbook forces a defense to play with extremely strict discipline against the Panthers. Rookie defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who often plays on the line in run-stopping situations, will need to shoot his gap and disrupt the backfield on read-option plays, allowing whichever defensive end is in the rotation to shoot outside and contain quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton is absolutely fearless in the face of a pass rush and has the pocket presence of a savvy veteran, but the Titans are better off taking their chances with Newton passing from the pocket than they are letting him get outside the pocket and make plays with his legs. His running ability forces defenses to play zone defenses against him, because if the defensive backs play man coverage their backs will be turned to Newton and they will not be able to see when he takes off with the football. Unfortunately for defenses forced to play zone against the Panthers, the route Newton is best at throwing to is the seam-splitting go route: he can loft the ball over a defensive back and hit his receiver perfectly in stride between zones. As a result, the Titans' defensive backs cannot let deep routes go unchallenged. They have to jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage to keep deep routes from developing and buy the defensive line time to close in on Newton. Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan will likely be matched up frequently against Panthers receiver Steve Smith, and the winner of the battle between the two, who are each considered among the scrappiest players in the game, will likely determine the winner of the game.
Special teams: If the game is a close one, the Titans have a slight advantage due to special teams. Kick returner Marc Mariani will help the Titans consistently get solid field position, and placekicker Rob Bironas can help the Titans score from farther out than the Panthers can score with their placekicker Olindo Mare. Special teams won't play a huge role in the game, but they will give the Titans a slight boost.
Final verdict: Titans 28, Panthers 14. Cam Newton's abilities make the Panthers' offense one of the scariest in the league for which to game-plan, but he can't score if he doesn't get the ball. The Titans can control the clock by letting screens to Chris Johnson hide his inefficiency at running up the middle, and keeping possession of the football.