Week 14: Cleveland Browns vs. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers’ entire success depends entirely on the play of quarterback Cam Newton. Newton hasn’t had nearly the same amount of success as he did in Carolina’s 15-1 Super Bowl appearance season, but he is still an explosive talent that, when he’s on his game, can dominate anyone in the NFL.
He is one of the most athletic talents in any major American sport, but much like Jameis Winston, has issues off the field that can lead to criticism — albeit to a much lesser extent than Winston. That criticism has often been the weak point for Newton, and the Panthers can only go as far as their All-Pro quarterback leads them.
That being said, there is a lot of talent on this Panthers team for the Browns to be concerned with. Controlling second-year running back Christian McCaffrey will be key, as that will force Newton to throw the ball downfield more often. Of course, McCaffrey is dangerous out of the backfield and lining up in the slot, so Cleveland will need their linebackers and slot cornerbacks to be prepared and not lose sight of him.
The Carolina defense is perhaps the best in the league, especially when it comes to stopping the run. Led by linebacker Luke Kuechly, this defense ranked number three in rushing yards allowed per game in 2017 at only 88.1 yards per game, according to NFL.com.
The former Defensive Player of the Year, Kuechly sets the tone by being all over the field for Carolina. This could be an issue for the Browns, who will likely look for their offensive line and new faces at running back to take control of games and help protect the quarterback from being forced to carry the weight of the team.
If there is one weakness the Browns can exploit, it is the passing game. Both Taylor and Mayfield are more than capable of slinging the ball deep if they are given the chance, and Carolina’s secondary is perhaps the weakest unit on the 2018 roster. With what many are saying is a top five receiving corps in 2018, look for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley to look for mismatches and try to turn Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry loose against this Panther defense.
This game will be close. If Cleveland is still in the hunt for a playoff berth or has a chance to spoil the playoff hopes for Carolina, they may be more motivated in this one. But in the end, Carolina’s defense is probably too tough for the running game of Cleveland, and this team isn’t yet built to win games by beating teams through the air.
Prediction: Carolina wins 27-24