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Five things to watch: Bengals vs. Panthers

QB Joe Burrow
QB Joe Burrow

The Bengals return to Paycor Stadium looking to defeat an NFC South opponent for the third time this season when they take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The game airs at 1 p.m. on FOX. Here are five things to watch:

1. Burrow nears historic mark

Quarterback Joe Burrow enters Sunday 372 passing yards shy of 10,000 for his career. If he hits that mark in what will be his 35th game, he would tie Justin Herbert as the second-fastest player in NFL history to reach the 10K milestone. Burrow in Week 3 surpassed 8,000 yards, tying for the third-fastest quarterback in history to do so (29 games), and in Week 7 eclipsed 9,000, tying for the fourth-fastest (33 games).

Throwing for 372 yards is certainly attainable for Burrow, who currently leads the NFL in passing yardage with 2,329. He faces a Carolina secondary this week that is 20th in the league in passing defense (232.0 yards allowed per game).

2. Young corners get opportunity

With several of Cincinnati's veteran cornerbacks listed on this week's injury report, the Bengals may turn to a pair of rookies to fill a key role against the Panthers. Namely, Cam Taylor-Britt could make his second consecutive start, and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo may even slot in versatile safety Dax Hill when needed.

The Bengals' secondary will line up against a Carolina passing offense that is averaging just 187.1 yards per game (28th in NFL). The Panthers have also performed marginally better when protecting the ball, as they are 0-5 in games in which they throw an interception, and 2-1 in contests when they are turnover-free. Cincinnati's young ballhawks not allowing quarterback P.J. Walker to get into a rhythm would go a long way towards picking up a crucial home win.

3. Hubbard heating up

Defensive end Sam Hubbard has 2.5 sacks over the last three games after totaling just one in the first five weeks. His pass-rushing success as of late poses a dangerous look for opposing offensive lines, who already face the task of blocking Pro Bowler Trey Hendrickson on the other side. Hubbard has still maintained his status among the league's elite run defending edge players, though, as his seven tackles for loss lead Cincinnati and are tied for sixth among all defensive ends.

Hubbard throughout his career has had a knack for carrying momentum from one week to the next. Last season, he was held to 1.5 sacks through the first five games, then racked up six over the following six contests. For the Bengals to head into the bye week with a winning record, they may need one — or both — of their star pass rushers to make a splash in the Panthers backfield.

4. Money Mac back on track

Last Monday's game at Cleveland marked just the second time in his career that Evan McPherson missed a field goal and an extra point attempt in the same contest. The first instance came in Week 1 of this season against Pittsburgh, and going off his numbers following that performance, McPherson is in line for a bounce back.

In Week 2 at Dallas, he made each of his three field goal attempts from distances of 43, 46 and 50 yards. McPherson went on to convert six of seven kicks from Weeks 3-7, the lone miss being a 41-yarder at the N.Y. Jets with the game already in hand. During that stretch he nailed a 57-yarder against Miami in Week 4 and a 52-yarder at New Orleans in Week 6. McPherson also knocked in 16 consecutive PAT's after the Pittsburgh game.

5. Paycor rocking

The Bengals have enjoyed one of the NFL's best home field advantages this season, and will rely on the Paycor Stadium crowd once again as they look to net three consecutive regular-season home wins for the first time since 2017.

Cincinnati beat Miami on Thursday Night Football in Week 4 in front of an announced attendance of 67,260, marking the largest home crowd in Bengals history. That figure surpassed the previous record of 66,277 set in the win over Las Vegas in last season's Wild Card Playoff.

The Bengals opened the 2022 campaign against Pittsburgh in front of a crowd of 65,841. Then in Week 7, they welcomed 66,158 fans for a win over Atlanta, which went in as the fourth-largest figure in team history. If Cincinnati draws 65,000 on Sunday, it would be the first time the team has hosted that many fans in four straight games since 2007.

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