Despite having one of the NFL's most athletic quarterbacks, Cam Newton may be running for his life on Sunday.
At times in 2012, both Cam Newton and Jay Cutler have been accused of being childish and of lacking the leadership required to be franchise quarterbacks. Now in his seventh season, it's par for the course to have Cutler garner this type of criticism. Despite a run-in with offensive coordinator Mike Tice earlier in the season, the Bears' QB has settled down, is playing within himself, and leaning on receiver Brandon Marshall-- who Chicago acquired in free agency.
While he's not even two years into his NFL career, Cam Newton is looking to make his mark in the NFL. A record-breaking rookie campaign hasn't kept Carolina's QB above reproach, dealing with charges ranging from being self centered, to the sole reason Panthers' general manager Marty Hurney was fired earlier in the week.
Meet the Chicago Bears
To call the Bears' defense stellar would be doing them an injustice. A unit that boasts one of the NFL's best pass rushes has been supported with a ball-hawking secondary. This has led to a league-leading 14 interceptions, five of which have been returned for touchdowns. The Bears also have a knack for stripping the ball, forcing nine fumbles and recovering seven.
On offense, the biggest weapon in the passing game is the aforementioned Brandon Marshall. The WR came to Chicago via trade before the draft. Thus far he's been everything the Bears hoped for, and is on pace for a career-high 1,539 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Meet the Carolina Panthers
A preseason decision by Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil put expectations in Carolina at an all-time high. Confidence was brimming following Cam Newton's record-breaking rookie year, but this was taken to new levels when Kalil not only predicted the Panthers would win the Superbowl, but went as far as to take a full-page ad out in the local newspaper to proclaim it. One win and five losses later, the Panthers are without Kalil (placed on injured reserve) and without their general manager-- fired due to the team's abysmal start.
Head coach and former Bears' linebacker Ron Rivera has no misgivings about his tenuous position, saying the next 10 games would be an audition for his coaching staff, and for him. With a chip on his shoulder, and fear of the unemployment line, there's a chance a new-look Panthers team could be looking to make a statement.
Local Takes: Chicago Bears
Steven Schweickert from Windy City Gridiron says this about how the Bears need to control Cam Newton, and run their offense:
"if the Bears do what the defense is predicated on and take the ball away, they stand a strong chance to win the game. Getting to the scrambling Cam Newton will go a long way to getting those turnovers, and the Bears' defense is among the fastest in the league. On offense, control the ball, don't give it back, and convert third down."
Local Takes: Carolina Panthers
As I said on Cat Scratch Reader, there's less optimism in the Panthers' abilities:
"The Carolina Panthers are like Monty Python's Black Knight. They may not have any limbs left, but watch out-- they'll bite your kneecaps! All we can hope is that the Panthers are entertaining, and we see progression from the rookies. This is circa 2010 fan survival mode, and everything is a little easier when you keep it punchy."
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The Bears are rolling right now. The Panthers are ... struggling, to be polite about it. Chicago's defense rarely gets beat on misdirection plays. That could be a problem for Cam Newton and Carolina's confused offense, unless someone dropped something special in the suggestion box this week.
The pick: 27-10, Bears
The Chicago Bears are heavy favorites at home, with Oddshark giving the Panthers nine points on Sunday, the largest margin of the weekend.