By Ryan Leong
Despite having the overall first round pick of the 2011 NFL Draft in Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers are not headed to the playoffs for the second year in a row. The 5-9 Panthers have won two straight for the first time this season, trying to make it three in a row when they host the Raiders this Sunday.
The record for Carolina isn’t bad when you consider the Panthers got off to a 1-6 start. There is a lot of pressure on head coach Ron Rivera, who in the last month has been able to win three of the last four games, earning a 5-2 December record in his two seasons with Carolina.
During the streak, Carolina has averaged 28 points per game and 407.5 yards. Over the last four weeks, Newton has an NFL best passer rating of 113.1 with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. If the Panthers can win three in row it will be the first time for the franchise to do so since the end of the 2009 season.
While it’s a reunion for Raiders running back Mike Goodson to play his former team, the same holds true of current Carolina wide receiver Louis Murphy. Murphy was with Oakland as wide receiver from 2009 through 2011 after being selected in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Initially, both Murphy and Newton were collegiate teammates at the University of Florida. Newton, however, would not remain there after he allegedly stole a laptop from another University of Florida student. Newton would play a year at Blinn College before moving on to Auburn where he would win the Heisman Trophy.
Murphy is only the fourth-best receiver on his team with 21 receptions for 274 yards and a touchdown. But now that Murphy and Newton are reunited, the two are still very close to one another. Murphy has served as a mentor to Newton always trying to provide positive reinforcement even though Newton has received much criticism for his early season struggles.
One aspect of the game the Panthers have lost all season long is the coin toss. Carolina is 0-13 — 12 during the regular season and once losing the coin toss before overtime. Newton has done well when the Panthers have started first on offense. In Week 14, the opening drive went for 77 yards, culminating in a touchdown. Last week, the first drive was for 80 yards and a score. The last two weeks, they combined to outscore the Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers 28-0 in the first quarter.
The Panthers are favored in this game by 9.5 points but keep in mind that the Panthers have lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, a team the Raiders have beaten twice this season.
Carolina’s run game has struggled with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart having the worst offensive seasons of their careers. Newton actually leads the team in rushing with 647 yards and seven touchdowns. With the Raiders ranking 25th in defense, it bodes well for Carolina to be an offensive juggernaut. Although the Raiders only allowed 10 rushing yards to the Chiefs, they’ve been giving up an average of 122.5 rushing yards per game this season.
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Ryan Leong has reported on over 2,800 games in the Bay Area since 1998, covering the Sharks, Giants, A’s, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders and the local college teams for radio networks and wire services. Having the best seat in the house to watch sports has been a thrill and Ryan still enjoys going to the games giving fans some insight and perspective on the players and coaches. His work can be found on Examiner.com.