Even you don’t follow the Carolina Panthers closely, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of at least one of the players on their team.
But the Panthers have a ton of talent on their roster beyond their famous starting quarterback. Here are five Carolina players you need to know before the Cards and Panthers do battle for a right to go to the Super Bowl on Sunday.
1. Cam Newton. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner led Auburn to a national championship in a title game played at Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium, and he parlayed that into a No. 1 overall draft selection in 2011.
This year, Newton has 45 combined touchdowns, including 10 rushing TDs, and is the clear front-runner for this NFL MVP award. When Newton isn’t beating teams with his arm, he’s crushing souls with his speed and physicality. He'll be a handful for Arizona's defense all day.
2. Jonathan Stewart. The Cardinals know the Panthers’ starting running back quite well: Stewart rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown in their playoff meeting in Charlotte last season, and he scored a TD in their 2008 playoff meeting, as well.
The Oregon alum has been dealing with a foot injury but looked just fine last weekend when he rushed for over 100 yards against a Seahawks defense that hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. The Cards are pretty good against the run, too -- sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and per carry -- but if they can’t contain Stewart on Sunday, it could be a long day for the road team.
3. Greg Olsen. Arguably the best tight end in the NFL not named Rob Gronkowski, Olsen had a career-high 1,104 yards this season to go with seven touchdowns. Newton's favorite receiving target, Olsen had six catches for 77 yards and a TD last weekend vs. the Seahawks.
Olsen must be giddy about this matchup. The Cardinals are notoriously bad at covering tight ends, and without injured safety Tyrann Mathieu on the field, their ability to effectively cover Olsen is, shall we say, questionable.
4. Luke Kuechly. Come Sunday, it won't be boos you hear from the Carolina home crowd; rather, it'll be chants of "Luuuuuuuuke" for the three-time Pro Bowler out of Boston College. Kuechly had a team-high 118 tackles during the regular season, along with 10 passes defended, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.
What makes Kuechly special? He’s fast for a 6-foot-3, 238-pounder, and he's effective in pass coverage. Don't doubt his potential to make life miserable for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer on Sunday.
5. Josh Norman. You may have heard Norman’s name after his on-field spat with Giants receiver Odell Beckham. The fourth-year pro is one of the best cornerbacks in the game, but like the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, Norman enjoys trying to get into the heads of his opponents.
Whichever Cardinals wide receiver Norman defends on Sunday will have the task of trying to catch passes against Norman AND making sure the 6-foot, 195-pounder doesn’t goad him into silly penalties.