The Panthers' punt coverage team has struggled a bit, giving up more punt return yards than any other team in the league so far in 2014 with 298. The total return yards stat isn't really skewed by a higher number of punts, either. Their average per punt is 14.2 yards, which is the second-worst average allowed.
Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer quoted Panthers head coach Ron Rivera as saying that Devin Hester, "...scares the heck out of people." Hester was on the injury report this week with an ankle injury and was held out of practice Wednesday, then was limited in Thursday and Friday's practices. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, but the Panthers definitely have to prepare as if he will play. Hester has taken advantage of the Panthers in the past. He set an NFL record with his 11th punt return touchdown against Carolina in 2011 off of a punt that he ran back for 69 yards. In that same game, Hester also had 73 kick return yards on two kicks against the Panthers.
The Panthers, like the Falcons--heck, like the rest of the division--have been inconsistent this season, and good field position off of returns would be a welcome advantage for Atlanta on Sunday. Rivera told the Charlotte Observer that teams have a plan to neutralize Hester, so look for Carolina to just kick the ball high in hopes that their coverage team will have enough hangtime to get in a position to effectively cover. If they can't execute that well, however, and if Hester is adequately healthy, he could be a difference-maker on Sunday.
What are you expecting from Devin Hester on Sunday?