Top Seed in reach as Packers host Panthers

LEFT: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on and smiles after the win against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 13, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) RIGHT: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Pa

While a Super Bowl title will always be first and foremost in Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers mind, the 37-year-old has made this season one of redemption. So much so that he has slowly earned the top spot in burgeoning MVP talk.

Granted, the Old Man of the North will still have to fight off Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, but Saturday night will be the type of national spotlight Rodgers has done some of his best work in over the last decade.

With Rodgers and the Packers (10-3) already in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the NFC, the Carolina Panthers will visit Lambeau Field Saturday night (8 P.M., NFL Network) in the unenviable position of trying to finish off Matt Rhule’s first season in charge with a positive run through the final three games of the season. Compounding matters for the Panthers (4-9) will be without running back Christian McCaffrey for the 11th time in 14 games this season.

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The sports betting information

On Sportsbook, the Packers are  7 ½ point home favorite with a money line of  minus-400. (A $400 bet would pay out $100.) The Panthers are +320 (a $100 bet pays $320) with the over-under of 51.5.  Against the number this year, the Packers are 8-5 while the Panthers are 7-6, which does indicate under first-year head coach Matt Rhule this Carolina squad has been competitive.

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The history

The Packers have an advantage over the Panthers in their previous 16 games, including a 24-16 win last season when Panthers running back McCaffrey was stopped on the goal line in the waning minutes of the game. Overall, the Packers hold a 10-6 advantage over the Panthers and that doesn’t appear to change much in this Saturday night tilt. If the first 16 contests mean anything, look for a high scoring game as 12-of-16 meetings have seen one or both teams score 30-plus points.

The storylines to watch

The Packers are the top seed in the NFC and have won three straight games. The biggest win of the year came on September 27th when Rodgers threw for 283 yards and three scores at New Orleans, who are currently second in the NFC. The Packers have already clinched the NFC North and have done so in large portion to another MVP-caliber season by Rodgers who has thrown for a league high 36 touchdowns, and a passer rating of 119.7

While the Packers have followed the lead of their best players, the Panthers have spent much of the season waiting for their most potent offensive player to get healthy in McCaffrey. McCaffrey, who was named All-Pro in 2019 when he rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, has been hampered this season with a thigh injury that has kept him out of all but three games. Without McCaffery the Panthers running game is ranked 20th in the NFL with 107.8 yards per game. Last season, with a healthy McCaffrey they finished 14th with 113.7 yards per game.

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