Carolina Panthers at Rams: Who has the edge?

PANTHERS (1-4) AT RAMS (2-3)

When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

Where: SoFi Stadium

TV/Radio: FOX; 710 AM; 93.1 FM; 1330 AM (Spanish); Sirius 85, 225

Line: Rams by 10 points

Notable injury designations: Rams: RB Cam Akers (out; personal), WR Cooper Kupp (questionable; foot), DL Aaron Donald (questionable; foot), TE Tyler Higbee (questionable; ankle), C Brian Allen (out; knee), CB Cobie Durant (questionable; hamstring), QB John Wolford (questionable; neck)

Panthers: CB Jaycee Horn (questionable; ribs), QB Baker Mayfield (doubtful; ankle), WR Robbie Anderson (questionable; illness) WR Laviska Shenault (out; hamstring), CB C.J. Henderson (questionable; knee)

What’s at stake? An opportunity to limp into the bye week with a 3-3 record. Not much has gone right for the Rams this season, but they’re in a better position than the Panthers, who fired head coach Matt Rhule earlier this week. Now the Panthers, with many of their star players potentially on the trading block, have to fly across the country after a chaotic week. The Rams are in need of a get-right game, but with the way their offense has played, one victory against a struggling team won’t solve all their issues. Coming out of the bye week with a .500 record and a few healthy players, however, could help the Rams get back on track.

Who’s better? The Rams are better, but not by a lot because of their issues on the offensive line. The Panthers have enough playmakers on defense with defensive end Brian Burns, defensive tackle Derrick Brown and cornerback Jaycee Horn, if he’s healthy enough to play, to give Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford another long outing. The Panthers also have plenty of talent on offense with running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver D.J. Moore. The Panthers will be starting third-string quarterback P.J. Walker and he might be well protected with rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu and right guard Austin Corbett, who played with the Rams from 2019 to 2021. The Panthers have issues, but the Rams are expecting them to put up a fight Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Matchup to watch: Ekwonu, the No. 6 overall pick, versus Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who’s still searching for his first sack of the season. The Rams haven’t had a takeaway in three consecutive games and they can end that drought if Floyd is able to apply frequent pressure on Walker. Ekwonu has had his ups and downs, but he received a 92.1 grade from Pro Football Focus for his performance last week against the San Francisco 49ers. Last week, the Rams moved Aaron Donald to the edge and he recorded two sacks against Cowboys rookie left tackle Tyler Smith. Maybe this is the week Donald gets help from Floyd on the outside.

Rams win if: … They limit the damage from Burns, one of the top edge rushers in the NFL. The Rams’ offensive line struggled to protect Stafford the past two weeks against San Francisco’s Nick Bosa and Dallas’ Micah Parsons. Stafford was sacked 12 times and hit 22 times in the two losses. It could be another long day for Stafford if the banged-up offensive line doesn’t contain Burns. The Rams might be trotting out their sixth offensive line combination Sunday.

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Fantasy sleeper: Rams running back Darrell Henderson could see plenty of carries with Cam Akers ruled out against the Panthers for private personal reasons. Plugging Henderson into your fantasy lineups is a risky play because the Rams have struggled to run the football this season, but the high volume of touches against a 10-point betting underdog might be worth the gamble. The Rams also plan to use running backs Malcolm Brown and Ronnie Rivers, who’s currently on the practice squad.

Prediction: Burns will give Stafford and the offensive line fits, but the Rams’ defense will bail them out by recording multiple takeaways to end their three-game drought. The Rams’ offense can’t be trusted to cover 10 points, but they’ll do enough to pull out a 23-17 victory against the Matt Rhule-less Panthers. Beat reporter’s record: 3-2 for the season; 3-2 against the spread.

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