After snapping their six-game losing streak with a win over Kansas City last week, the Raiders are hoping to finish a disappointing season on a high note.
The 4-10 Raiders take on the 5-9 Panthers in Carolina on Sunday, then get a date with the Chargers in San Diego to close out the season on Dec. 30.
To win this Sunday, however, the Raiders will have to contain one very talented Panther in quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton hasn’t been quite as spectacular as he was in his rookie season of 2011, but he’s been playing extremely well lately.
In winning three of their past four games, Newton has led a resurgent Carolina offense that has averaged 28 points per game and 407.5 yards. Over that span, Newton has thrown nine TD passes with no interceptions and has an NFL-best 113.1 passer rating.
Overall this season, Newton has thrown for 3,451 yards and 18 touchdowns and run for 647 yards and seven scores. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he’s a brilliant combination of big body, big arm and fast feet.
In the past two weeks, the Panthers have knocked off Atlanta 30-20 and San Diego 31-7.
The Raiders know if they want to stop the Panthers, they’ll have to stop Newton. Oddsmakers have made the Panthers 8½-point favorites.
Oakland running back Mike Goodson, who played with Newton last season in Carolina, told CBS Sports’ Eric Gilmore that the first time he saw him he thought, “ 'Oh, God, look at this guy.” He’s a great athlete.”
This week, the Raiders No. 3 QB, Terrelle Pryor, has been playing Newton on the scout team.
Raiders cornerback Michael Huff says that’s been good preparation – Pryor might even be faster than Newton, he says – but Newton is special. Rookie Oakland linebacker Miles Burris agrees.
He says he’s never faced anyone who can do the things Newton does on film.
“He’s kind of a breed of his own,” Burris told Gilmore. “A lot of new quarterbacks nowadays, like RGIII (Robert Griffin III of Washington) and those guys running around, they can threaten your defense in a lot of different ways. So we got to go out there and just prepare the best we can. That’s all we can do every week. Just fly around to the ball and good things happen if you work hard.”
Adds Raiders head coach Dennis Allen: “He presents some unique challenges. He’s obviously a tremendous talent.”
In addition to Newton, the Panthers have another threat in running back DeAngelo Williams, who has 256 yards rushing combined in the last two weeks.
The Oakland defense played well last week in a 15-0 victory over the Chiefs, holding Kansas City to a franchise-record 10 yards rushing. Allen hopes his team can build off that.
“I think that was huge for our defense,” Allen told reporters this week. “I think that was a good confidence builder.”
The Oakland offense moved the ball well on the ground last week, but was unable to score a touchdown, settling for five Sebastian Janikowski field goals. But Allen hopes the Raiders can continue to thrive rushing the ball – and score some touchdowns – now that running back Darren McFaden is healthy again. Against the Chiefs, McFadden had 30 carries for 110 yards.
This season, the Raiders are 4-1 when McFadden gets at least 18 carries.
“I think we all saw that when we execute that game plan the way we feel like we’re capable of executing it, we have a chance to win games,” Allen said.