As a rookie, Cam Newton was a revelation. His mix of athleticism, work-ethic, intelligence, and courage made the Panthers a dangerous matchup for any team. As well, his media-friendly appearance and attitude made him very popular with fans and with the image-conscious NFL. In 2011, the Panthers improved to 6-10, and the future looked bright. They had managed to accomplish what so many other teams dream of doing: they had drafted their franchise quarterback.
It’s no secret, then, that Carolina has gotten off to a disappointing start this season. At 1-5, they’re a long way away from the second-place finish that I had projected for them in the NFC South. Looking at the team now, it’s not difficult to see that expectations for this season were much too high. Newton’s emergence last season overshadowed a lot of deficiencies which haven’t been fixed for this season. The team is a mess, and the fault lies solely with the people running the team. The Panthers are thin on defence, due largely to signing injury-prone LBs Thomas Davis and Jon Beason for big money, instead of spending money more wisely on improving the team’s defensive depth. Meanwhile on the offensive side, the Panthers have little depth at WR (other than Steve Smith) to help Newton, while the team signed RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for big bucks, but barely use them (Williams has only 4 more carries than Newton this season, while Stewart has 11 less!). People expect Newton to win, but he can’t do it alone, and he’s not handling it well. He’s too conscientious to accept the way things are, and he’s getting down. He keeps going out in front of the cameras every week and trying to express his disappointment honestly, and he’s getting a reputation for being a whiner, a sulker.
The Carolina ownership is finally starting to realize just how badly they have let this young man down, how badly they have screwed up this golden situation, and they have made at least one step in the right direction by firing General Manager Marty Hurney. Hopefully, Head Coach Ron Rivera will be gone soon too. The Panthers’ running game was expected to be a huge advantage this season, including opening up more opportunities for Newton in the passing game, so the underutilization of Williams and Stewart is a little baffling. Rivera is a defensive guy, so he seems ill-equipped to solve the team’s offensive woes. Add to that the mess on defence, and the fact that he’s a lousy in-game coach, and he has got to go. The team needs to be decisive; wasting any more time allowing their 23-year-old franchise QB to spin his wheels would be a catastrophe.
Of course, the one great thing about a situation like this is that it gives folks opportunities to entertain me by saying really stupid things. Take Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk. This week, when discussing Newton, he actually asked the inane question, “Should the Panthers keep him?” The thought of letting go a QB with as much talent and potential as Newton, at the age of 23 no less, when so many teams in the league are deficient at the position, is too ludicrous to entertain. You build a team around a guy like Newton, if you’re lucky enough to find one that good. Not one of your finest moments, Florio. Also, did the Cam Newton situation cause a Hall of Fame QB to call a current Pro Bowler a racist? Well, Warren Moon, who has a close relationship with Newton, was upset when he heard Newton being talked about as a possible bust, and being compared to Vince Young. Moon believes that part of the reason for the harsh criticism of Newton is racial, and was quoted as saying, “…it's always a comparison of one black to another black. I get tired of it.” And hey, if you know anything about Moon, then you know that he knows more than most about the harm stereotyping black QBs can do. Meanwhile, after playing Washington last week, the Giants heaped praise upon the play of Robert Griffin III. Among the Giants players who complimented Griffin was Justin Tuck, who said, “If I was going to run that offense and they asked me to pick between Vick, Cam Newton, the RGIII, I’m probably taking that guy.” Justin Tuck, Warren Moon thinks you’re a racist. Your move.
Now, onto the picks, where it looks like a good week for a lot of road teams.
Colts at Titans
The Colts and Andrew Luck continue to struggle on the road. Chris Johnson ran wild against the terrible Bills defence last week, putting the rest of the league on notice that he’s still dangerous when he finds a little daylight. I have a feeling he’ll find plenty of holes to run through in the Colts’ defence. Winner: Titans
Chargers at Browns
I toyed with the idea of taking the Browns at home, but I believe that the Chargers’ defence is solid enough, especially with an extra week’s rest, to hold the Browns’ offence at bay. Philip Rivers has struggled this season, but he should be able to get the job done this week, provided he remains patient and doesn’t try to do too much. Winner: Chargers
Dolphins at Jets
This is a bad time for the awful Jets’ offence to be coming up against Miami’s stingy defence. The Dolphins are really tough to run against, which will mean that Mark Sanchez, under pressure from Miami’s great pass rush, will have to beat them. The best chance the Jets have in this game is if the mere sight of Time Tebow scares the Dolphins into a state of paralysis. I doubt any of the Dolphins who were around for their game against Denver last season think Tebow’s overrated. Winner: Dolphins
Jaguars at Packers
Aaron Rodgers is on a roll. The Jags don’t even have their best player on offence. I see Graham Harrell getting some playing time in the fourth quarter. Winner: Packers
Patriots at Rams (but not really “at”)
This one’s in London, England. The time change won’t really be a factor; it’s just a few hours really, making it like a late afternoon game for both teams. The Pats have a long way to go before their defensive secondary will be up to the level of a serious contender, but the rest of the defence is sound, and the offence is as potent as ever. They’re more than a match for the Rams, no matter what continent they’re playing on. Winner: Patriots
Washington at Steelers
RGIII continues to impress. Not only is he a threat to break a huge run on any play, but he extends plays with his legs and he’s a deadly accurate passer as well. He got rave reviews from the Giants’ defenders who had the unenviable task of chasing him around last week. This Steelers defence isn’t nearly as good as the Giants’. If this game is still close in the 4th, “Sir Robert” will administer the coup de grâce on the tired, wounded Steelers. Winner: Washington
Seahawks at Lions
With the Lions’ playoff hopes dwindling, they will be desperate for a victory at home this week. Too bad they’re playing host to Seattle and their punishing DBs. Detroit’s offence has struggled all season to put points on the board. Meanwhile, rookie Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson seems to be gaining confidence with each passing week (pun intended), and is complemented by the bane of the Detroit defence, a punishing running game. Winner: Seahawks
Panthers at Bears
Struggling on offence and banged up on defence, the Panthers travel to the windy apple to take on one of the best teams in the league, with predictable results. In fact I am predicting them. Winner: Bears
Falcons at Eagles
Every year I hear the same thing: Andy Reid’s teams always win after their bye week. I’ll admit that Reid’s record bears this out, and that’s because in spite of the fact that he is one of the worst in-game coaches EVER (kind of the anti-Coughlin), he is great at preparation and strategy. What I can’t imagine is how any amount of planning will make Michael Vick more accurate or less turnover-prone. Whatever defensive liabilities the Falcons may have, their offence will be more than Philly can handle. Winner: Falcons
Raiders at Chiefs
The Raiders, for all their struggles, should still be able to handle the woeful Chiefs, provided that Brady Quinn is still as bad as I remember. Winner: Raiders
Giants at Cowboys
Any thoughts I had about picking Dallas in this one went right out the window once they lost tackling machine and defensive leader Sean Lee. Defensive depth was the Cowboys’ best chance in this one. Tony Romo is more than capable of exploiting the Giants’ liabilities in the secondary, provided his receivers get the job done (hardly a confidence-builder for Cowboys’ fans), but that will just mean losing a shootout instead of a blowout. Winner: Giants
Saints at Broncos
Two great QBs, running two potent offences. The difference here is that the Broncos have a defence that can limit the damage done by Brees and Co., whereas Peyton Manning will be met with much less resistance by the Saints’ D. Winner: Broncos
49ers at Cardinals
So, John Skelton survived Jared Allen and the rest of the Vikes’ pass rushers last week. This isn’t much of a reward, is it? Winner: 49ers