Cam Newton was the first-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He’s started all but four games in his six-plus seasons, and in 2015, he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance, and for his efforts he was named NFL MVP.
Carson Wentz was taken second overall in 2016, behind Jared Goff. The plan was to have Sam Bradford start the season but he was traded to the Vikings, and Wentz was elevated to the top of the depth chart. In his first three starts — all wins — Wentz averaged 256 yards passing a game with five touchdowns, no interceptions and just two sacks. The reality of life as a young NFL quarterback set in shortly thereafter; seven of his final 13 games featured performances that earned negative grades, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Eagles limped to a 7-9 record.
When it was over, Wentz ranked 27th in total value among quarterbacks, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics, but the experience was invaluable.
The lesson: Hey, Cleveland Browns, if you’re listening, you’re on course for another top-overall pick. How about you take a quarterback since your latest experiment — 2017 second-rounder DeShone Kizer — already appears to be latest casualty on the world’s saddest list of starting quarterbacks.
Back to Wentz, who has been incrementally better each week this season, with his best performance coming against the Cardinals on Sunday, when the threw four touchdowns, including three in the first quarter. He ranks eighth among all quarterbacks, just behind Aaron Rodgers — and seven spots ahead of Newton, according to Football Outsiders. And as Wentz’s confidence grows, so, too, does the confidence of his teammates.
“In my opinion, this is a quarterback league. Everything runs through that position,” center Jason Kelce said this week. “This whole thing runs through him so he deserves a lot of credit. He’s putting us in a lot of good positions on the ground, and obviously today he was able to make a lot of plays through the air. By the same token, I think he does a good job of making sure that he appreciates everybody and what they’re doing. He’s the first person to come up to an offensive line and thank them for picking up the blitz so that he had time to throw it downfield, even if he was the reason why we picked up the blitz. I think he deserves a lot of credit, that goes without being said.”
Newton, meanwhile, looks like his MVP self in recent weeks after concerns that offseason shoulder surgery were to blame for his slow start in September. In his first three games, Newton never completed more than 65 percent of his passes, had two touchdowns and four interceptions. In the two weeks since, Newton is completing 77 percent of his throws and has six touchdowns and one interception.
This is welcome news for the Panthers, who managed just six wins last season when Newton had career lows in completion percentage (52.9), yards per attempt (6.9), rushing yards (359) and passer rating (75.8). Despite the turnaround, however, the Panthers quarterback isn’t interested in comparing his current successes to his MVP campaign in 2015.
“I’m just so focused on trying to find a way to be 1-0 by the end of Thursday night,” Newton said this week. “I understand you guys have got a job to do and trying to make compare and contrast, that’s what this society’s all about, or this is what you guys are all about. I’m just trying to find ways to do anything for this team to win a football game. Running, passing, blocking, catching, cheering, it doesn’t matter.”
And no need to worry about Newton’s shoulder either.
“If we were to play today, I would have to be ready to play today,” he said. “It doesn’t make me any different, just like it won’t make anybody else any different.”
Newton’s re-emergence as one of the league’s best players is a big reason we like the Panthers to outlast the Eagles in a close game.
Our prediction: Panthers 24 Eagles 21
How to watch, stream
It’s Color Rush Thursday (again), y’all!
Every Thursday is Color Rush Thursday in the NFL. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile, the Eagles won’t be wearing their green-on-green color rush uniforms, but instead will go with all-white:
AFC Color Rush
NFC Color Rush
Thursday night schedule
- Week 6: Eagles at Panthers, Oct. 12 at 8:25 p.m. ET on CBS and NFLN
- Week 7: Chiefs at Raiders, Oct. 19 at 8:25 p.m. ET on CBS and NFLN
- Week 8: Dolphins at Ravens, Oct. 26 at 8:25 p.m. ET on CBS and NFLN
- Week 9: Bills at Jets, Nov. 2 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NFL Network
- Week 10: Seahawks at Cardinals, Nov. 9 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC and NFLN
- Week 11: Titans at Steelers, Nov. 16 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC and NFLN
- Week 12: Giants at Redskins, Nov. 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
- Week 13: Redskins at Cowboys, Nov. 30 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC and NFLN
- Week 14: Saints at Falcons, Dec. 7 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC and NFLN
- Week 15: Broncos at Colts, Dec. 14 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC and NFLN
‘TNF’ comes to Amazon
After Twitter hosted several “Thursday Night Football” games during the 2016 for live streaming, it lost a bid for the NFL’s 2017 streaming package to Amazon, which will stream 10 Thursday night games during the season — including the Pats-Bucs matchup — for Amazon Prime members. You can read more about Amazon’s deal here.
Here are the games available for streaming from Amazon:
- Week 6: Eagles at Panthers, Oct. 12 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 7: Chiefs at Raiders, Oct. 19 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 8: Dolphins at Ravens, Oct. 26 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 10: Seahawks at Cardinals, Nov. 9 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 11: Titans at Steelers, Nov. 16 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 13: Redskins at Cowboys, Nov. 30 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 14: Saints at Falcons, Dec. 7 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 15: Broncos at Colts, Dec. 14 at 8:25 p.m. ET
- Week 16: Steelers at Texans, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m. ET