Indianapolis Colts vs. Carolina Panthers: 3 Matchups to Watch

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Point Spread: Panthers favored by 6.5 points
Over/Under: 46.5 points
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

The Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts will enter tonight’s game atop the NFC South and AFC South standings, respectively, but that fact is more than just mildly deceiving. While the Panthers are undefeated at 6-0, the Colts are leading their division with a losing overall record of 3-4. With that being the case, both teams have a lot to play for in Week 8 of Monday Night Football.

With a win, the Panthers would establish themselves as the only unbeaten team in the NFC, and give them a two-game divisional lead in the loss column over the Atlanta Falcons. A loss would put the Panthers in a tie with the Green Bay Packers for first place in the NFC and give them just a half-game lead over the Falcons in the race for the NFC South.

If the Colts come away with a win, they will give themselves a full two-game lead over the Houston Texans in the AFC South as they enter the second half of their 2015 schedule. Here is a look at three key matchups that will play a major role in deciding the outcome of this game.

1. Panthers’ running back Jonathan Stewart vs. Colts’ defensive front seven

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jonathan Stewart (pictured above) is coming off of his best game of the season in Week 7 where he rushed for 125 yards on 24 carries against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Colts, on the other hand, are coming off of a game where they allowed the New Orleans Saints running backs to rush for 187 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. Behind Stewart’s performance, the Panthers proved that they can move the ball and score enough points to win games even when their best player, quarterback Cam Newton, is not at the top of his game. For the Colts to have a fighting chance in this game, they cannot allow Stewart to run wild.

2. Colts’ offensive line vs. Panthers’ defensive line

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Colts’ offensive line has without a doubt been the team’s weakest link on that side of the ball in 2015. In total, they have allowed 15 sacks and been flagged for 16 holding penalties, which is extremely concerning considering that their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, has reportedly been playing with fractured ribs for several weeks. To make matters worse, the Panthers front four — Jared Allen, Kony Ealy, Kawann Short, and Star Lotulelei — have been playing extremely well as of late. All said, this matchup may ultimately decide the outcome of this game.

3. Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen vs. Colts’ safety Mike Adams

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Greg Olsen (pictured above) has been the best tight end in the league not named Rob Gronkowski in 2015, and the Colts’ defense has struggled mightily against opposing tight ends for most of the season. Adams is returning from a hamstring injury for this game, and the 34-year-old safety will likely be the player responsible for covering Olsen for most of this game. In reality, it is highly unlikely that Adams and the Colts will completely shut down Olsen. However, if they can keep the 6-foot-6-inch, 254-pound tight end under his 2015 per game averages of 4.5 receptions and 73.2 yards, the Colts will greatly increase their chances of pulling off an upset tonight.

Final Prediction: Panthers 30, Colts 23

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Newton (pictured above) will have a strong bounce-back performance and carry the Panthers’ offense, while All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly and the Panthers defensive line will limit the Colts’ red zone success. Carolina comes away with an impressive home win, and will enter Week 9 as the only unbeaten team in the NFC.

All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference, all point spreads courtesy of Sportsbook.ag.