NFL

The Carolina Panthers Just Got Some Encouraging News About Their $64 Million Star

The Carolina Panthers‘ do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey hasn’t played since Week 2, but he finally looks to be on pace to return to the field this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

McCaffrey was close to playing last Thursday when the Panthers faced off against the Atlanta Falcons. He pushed to be activated before the divisional matchup, but the team didn’t want to risk an injury setback. With Carolina still in striking distance of the NFC playoffs, McCaffrey’s return this Sunday would be a huge boost for the team.

Christian McCaffrey has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain

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McCaffrey entered the 2020 season coming off the best year of his young NFL career. The RB led the league with 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns last season. In a 5-11 season that saw Ron Rivera get the boot, McCaffrey was one of the lone bright spots for the Panthers in 2019.

McCaffrey started 2020 with a bang, racking up 223 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns through the first two games of the season. But during the Panthers’ Week 2 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he suffered a brutal setback after a touchdown run.

McCaffrey was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain after the Week 2 loss, meaning he would be sidelined for multiple weeks while he recovers. The RB hasn’t been back on the field since suffering the injury, but he finally returned to the practice field last week.

After a full week and a half of practice, McCaffrey could be in line to return in Week 9.

Matt Rhule is ‘real hopeful’ McCaffrey will play this Sunday

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Panthers head coach Matt Rhule spoke to the media on Monday and addressed the possibility of McCaffrey returning to the field this weekend. Although nothing is guaranteed yet, Rhule sounded optimistic his $64 million star will be in the starting lineup come Sunday.

“I think he looks good. It just comes to the doctors and trainers and all those things,” Rhule said Monday. “I’m real hopeful we’ll have him.”

Starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said he’s been impressed with Mike Davis filling in for McCaffrey in recent weeks, but he’s excited to get his All-Pro weapon back.

“Honestly, everything that Mike has done, that’s what Christian brings to the table as well,” Bridgewater said. “Obviously, Christian coming off the year that he had last year, he’s a guy that’s exceptional. But at the same time, you never want to take away what Mike did for us. For him to step in and do the things that he’s done, he’s been a true pro. He’s been working extremely hard. But Christian is a guy you get back, and everyone saw what he did last year, what he did the first two games this year. So we’re just excited to be getting healthy at this point in the year.”

McCaffrey’s return could come at the perfect time

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The Panthers have lost three straight heartbreakers, but they’re still in the NFC playoff picture halfway through the 2020 season. Carolina sits at 3-5 after eight games, two games back of the final Wild Card spot.

The Los Angeles Rams currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC playoffs at 5-3, but there’s plenty of football left to play.

The Panthers have two tough games coming up against the Chiefs and Buccaneers, but McCaffrey’s return would give them a chance to pick up at least one upset victory in the next two weeks. After that, Carolina plays three straight games against teams with losing records.

McCaffrey is one of the few players in the NFL that can lead his team to a win almost singlehandedly, and if the Panthers are going to make a playoff push, they’ll need him on the field this week and going forward.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference