This year’s version of the Carolina Panthers isn’t the one that took the NFC by storm in 2015, advancing to the Super Bowl.
That team went 15-1 in the regular season, then whipped the Seahawks and Cardinals and had the conference’s No. 1 rushing offense and No. 6 overall defense.
This year, the Panthers have struggled. They lost five of their first six games and only recently caught fire, having won three of their past four to get to 4-6. They rank just 15th in both team offense and overall defense and now are without the services of outstanding linebacker and leader Luke Kuechly.
Yet when the Raiders take on the Panthers Sunday at O.co Coliseum, the Oakland defense has a formidable task in trying to contain quarterback Cam Newton, the NFL’s reigning MVP.
Newton’s performance hasn’t been at the level it was last season, but he remains a special talent. He’s completed 56.4 percent of his throws for 2,186 yards and 11 touchdowns and picked up another 268 yards rushing with four TDs.
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio says his defense will have to be aware of him at all times. He can throw deep or scramble for a big gain.
Though he’s coming off an up-and-down performance in a win over the Saints last week, Newton continues to make big plays. Against the Saints, he was 4-of-7 on passes of 15 or more yards.
“He’s as fast as most everybody out there,” Del Rio told the media this week. “He has tremendous size. He has really developed as a passer. He was the MVP last year for a reason. The guy is a really good football player and he’s a threat not only to throw it but to run it as well. They do a great job with design with him.”
Kickoff for Sunday’s game between the 8-2 Raiders and Panthers is set for 1:25 p.m.