The Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Chargers rarely play each other but are joined by some commonalities going into Sunday's game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
The Chargers (1-1) face more certainty at quarterback with Tyrod Taylor, who didn't play last weekend because of a rib injury that was compounded by a punctured lung during medical procedures. Rookie Justin Herbert nearly orchestrated an upset of the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who prevailed in overtime.
Herbert's role is now clear while Taylor is out.
"I look forward to seeing him play with a week of preparation knowing he's going to be the starter," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said of Herbert. "We have to tailor things to his skill set."
The Panthers (0-2) are fully aware of much of the Chargers' predicament.
They'll be without All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, who exited after scoring his second touchdown of the game with a fourth-quarter run last weekend in a loss at Tampa Bay. His four rushing touchdowns give him a share of the NFL lead.
McCaffrey's high ankle sprain is expected to keep him sidelined for a month and up to six weeks. Carolina placed him on injured reserve Wednesday.
Herbert, a four-year star at Oregon, became the third player in NFL history with at least 300 passing yards and a rushing touchdown in his debut.
There were positives from Herbert, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft.
"His poise, he didn't panic," Lynn said.
Yet as much as Herbert's outing was encouraging, there was another element.
"There's a lot we didn't get done with Justin on the field," Lynn said. "He's a backup for a reason."
Without McCaffrey, the Panthers will turn to Mike Davis as the primary running back.
"He will play well in Christian's absence," Carolina coach Matt Rhule said of Davis.
Davis has made multiple stops in the NFL, but the 27-year-old failed to emerge as a featured back. Rhule said there is no doubt in the Panthers' minds that Davis is a starting-caliber back in the NFL.
"He's going to be a challenge, so we have to bring our 'A' game and stop the run," Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph said of Davis.
Davis is a sixth-year NFL veteran in his second season with the Panthers, joining the team last November.
"Just be me, don't try to be someone else," Davis said. "Play how I've been playing. Prepare how I've been preparing. Just play angry."
Lynn played in the NFL with Ed McCaffrey, the running back's father.
"Some good genes there," Lynn said. "To say I'm going to miss him playing on Sunday, no I won't miss him."
Carolina also will be counting on better ball security from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who accounted for three turnovers in the Tampa Bay game. He has seemed to find a groove with receiver Robby Anderson, who has compiled more than 100 receiving yards in both games this season.
If the Chargers sense inexperience on offense, it might be a good matchup with the Panthers. They've started three rookies on defense.
It's unclear if the Panthers will have defensive lineman Kawann Short, who missed Wednesday's practice, back after he sat out last week's game with a foot injury.
Both teams have been in a pair of tight games, with Carolina within seven points of the Buccaneers with less than two minutes remaining. The Chargers rallied to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals before seeing a fourth-quarter lead disappear in the setback to the Chiefs.
The Panthers are trying to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2010, when they lost their first five games en route to a two-win season.
The Chargers and Panthers have met just six times, with Carolina holding a 5-1 record (including victories in the last three matchups). The last meeting came in 2016.
--Field Level Media