Rookie quarterback Cam Newton has led the Panthers to more touchdowns (21) than they scored during the entire season (17) a year ago. Newton has directly accounted for 18 of those scores with 11 touchdown passes and seven rushing scores.
Wide receiver Steve Smith has already equaled his team leading reception total of last season with 46 and nearly doubled his 554 yards from a year ago with 918, which ranks second in the NFL and first in the NFC.
Coach Ron Rivera said he's pleased with how rookie Byron Bell is handling the right tackle spot since taking over as the starter there when Jeff Otah was placed on injured reserve.
"He's a tremendous young man and you see him developing into the type of football player you're looking for," Rivera said. "He's a smart young individual who is young and talented. I think as he goes and continues to grow, we've got something here. He has a bright future in the NFL and I'm very happy for him because he works at it. A lot of times when you put a rookie with a veteran offensive line you're not sure quite what you're going to get, but the guys around him have rallied."
Thomas Keiser, who went to training camp with the Panthers as an undrafted rookie and has impressed coaches with his work ethic, is excited about his opportunity after being signed to the 53-man roster this week.
"It definitely was tough to make the 53-man roster and then be waived a day later, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to be on the practice squad and try to earn that opportunity to be active again and get to play. That's the ultimate goal," Keiser said. "I'm very excited. I'm going to make the best of it."
Keiser said he thinks he will be active on Sunday.
"He was our most productive defensive end during preseason training camp and that's why we decided to keep him around," coach Ron Rivera said. "He's done nothing but work hard."
Cornerback Brandon Hogan is finally on the 53-man roster, seven months after being drafted by the Panthers and nearly a year after tearing his ACL while returning a punt at West Virginia. He was elevated from the PUP list on Tuesday.
"The next couple of weeks, Brandon could get more and more involved in what we're doing defensively and on special teams as well," coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a tremendously skilled young football player."
"It feels good," said Hogan, who spent the first half of the season rehabbing his left knee. "I'm still learning, but when I was out I was paying attention on the side, so I know most of it. I can do everything. It's up to what the coaches want to do and how they want to use me. Whatever they want, I'm ready."
BY THE NUMBERS: 53 - Number of combined catches for tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. They also have 551 yards and five touchdowns through eight games.
The Titans come in ranked last in the league in rushing, but somehow the Panthers always seem to be an elixir for other team's problems. Remember, just a few weeks ago Chicago's Matt Forte was coming off a nine-carry- 2-yard outing against Green Bay and proceeded to light up the Panthers for 205 yards rushing.
The Panthers are aware of what Chris Johnson can do and they're not taking him lightly.
Johnson seemed to start hitting his stride last week when he turned in a strong first half, so look for the Panthers to focus on stopping Johnson and forcing Tennessee's receivers to make plays.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Titans CB Cortland Finnegan: Wow, you talk about two volatile guys. Someone might want to have the police on hand for this matchup. Smith is second in the league in yards receiving, which will only serve as added motivation for Finnegan. Tennessee's secondary has struggled this year in allowing 231.5 yards per game through the air and 14 passing touchdowns in the first half of the season. Smith is trying to maintain pace with Wes Welker for the league lead and stay on pace to eclipse Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record.
Panthers DE Charles Johnson vs. Titans LT Michael Roos. Johnson comes into this game with 15 sacks in his last 15 games, including seven this season. Roos is one of the better blockers in the league, so Johnson could have a tough time against him. The Titans have allowed just 12 sacks in eight games, fourth-fewest in the league.
The Panthers activated fourth-round draft pick Brandon Hogan, a cornerback from West Virginia, from the practice squad and signed defensive end Thomas Keiser off the practice squad Tuesday. To make room on the roster, they placed linebacker Thomas Williams on injured reserve Tuesday with a neck injury and cut defensive tackle Ron Fields.
Williams is the third linebacker to go on injured reserve.
That means Omar Gaither will likely see more playing time at a variety of different positions, according to coach Ron Rivera.
It doesn't sound like Hogan will be active this week.
QB Cam Newton has thrown for 2,393 yards, the most yards ever by a rookie through eight games. The previous high was Peyton Manning, who threw for 1,878 yards in his first eight games in 1998.
RB Jonathan Stewart has nine 100-yard rushing games and looks for a 10th against a tough Titans team. He'll begin the game behind starter DeAngelo Williams as usual.
WR Steve Smith has 7,606 yards receiving since the start of the 2005 season, which ranks behind only Reggie Wayne and Larry Fitzgerald.
LB Jason Phillips (calf) was the only player who didn't practice for the Panthers on Wednesday. Everyone else should be ready for Sunday's game.
LB Omar Gaither is expected to see more action at a variety of linebacker positions with Thomas Williams (neck) on injured reserve.
CB Brandon Hogan has been activated from the PUP list, but coach Ron Rivera said it's likely he will be inactive this week against Tennessee. However, Rivera said he likes what he's seen from Hogan, the team's fourth-round pick.
LB Jason Phillips has a calf injury and was the only player who did not practice Wednesday. If he can't go the Panthers would enter Sunday's game with only five active linebackers, which is a bit of a concern. Omar Gaither, who is now starting on the weak side, would see action on base and nickel packages.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I want to see consistent play. I would love to see us keep our offensive consistency and not have the lulls with three-and-out or dry spells. Defensively, I want to see us continue to get better, continue to fit the runs and not give up the big plays that have cost us and play smart. On special teams, to continue to get better, which we have done." - Coach Ron Rivera on his goals for the second half of the season.