NFL

Panthers 'trending' toward starting Newton, says Rhule

By Sports Desk November 17, 2021

The Carolina Panthers are "trending" toward starting Cam Newton at quarterback for their Week 11 clash with the Washington Football Team.

Carolina last week brought their 2011 first overall pick and 2015 MVP Newton back on a one-year deal having parted company with him after the 2019 campaign.

Newton, who was released by the New England Patriots before the start of this season, made his second debut against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and had an instant impact.

P.J. Walker got the start in the absence of the injured Sam Darnold but it was Newton who produced the moments that will live long in the memory.

His first touch saw him find the endzone on a two-yard run to give the Panthers the lead, with his second seeing him connect with Robby Anderson on a two-yard touchdown pass as Carolina cruised to a 34-10 win.

Both Walker and Newton are in a position physically to start, but head coach Matt Rhule indicated it is the latter who will likely do so as the Panthers aim to boost their playoff hopes by moving to 6-5.

"You know, I think we're probably trending that way to be quite honest with you. I'm not gonna probably pull that trigger 'til later," Rhule said of Newton starting.

"But I think, and I was pretty transparent the other day, in terms of wanting to push him into that role I think it's good for our team.

"But we're getting P.J. ready as well. As I said, gameplan-wise, I think we could see a myriad of different things happen."

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  • Niners' All-Pro tackle Trent Williams 'adamant' he will play in NFC Championship Game Niners' All-Pro tackle Trent Williams 'adamant' he will play in NFC Championship Game

    San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams is "adamant" he will play in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams despite a lack of practice time as he deals with a sprained ankle.

    Williams played through the injury as the Niners booked their place in the conference title game with a dramatic 13-10 road win over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers.

    He had missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday but was out on the field, albeit walking slowly, before the Niners made their departure for Los Angeles on Friday.

    San Francisco claimed a sixth successive win over the Rams in the final week of the regular season, coming back from 17-0 down to prevail in overtime, to clinch a place in the playoffs.

    The Niners achieved that feat without Williams, who missed that clash due to an elbow problem.

    All-Pro Williams was not ruled out until the day of the game, and head coach Kyle Shanahan will give him every chance to prove his fitness for this clash with a place in Super Bowl LVI on the line.

    "It's going to be like it was three weeks ago. I feel the same way as I did at the beginning of the week," Shanahan told a media conference.

    "He came out for walkthrough today and Trent is adamant that he's going and he was last time too, which, I believe Trent when he says that he's going to do everything that he can to play.

    "And so I'll be surprised if he doesn't, but I was surprised last time. I was also surprised he was able to finish the game versus Green Bay.

    "So hopefully his mindset will be how his body reacts on Sunday. We know it'll help us a lot, but if not, we'll deal with it." 

    Williams' influence on the Niners' passing offense and their rushing attack cannot be overstated.

    According to Stats Perform data, he ranked fourth among tackles with at least 100 one-on-one matchups in the regular season with a stunt-adjusted win pass protection win percentage of 91.81.

    In double-team adjusted run-block win rate, he was second with 81.56 per cent.

    Colton McKivitz, who filled in against the Rams in Week 18, would likely get the start at left tackle if Williams is unable to play.

  • Why the Rams have leapfrogged the Chiefs as Super Bowl favourites Why the Rams have leapfrogged the Chiefs as Super Bowl favourites

    There wasn't much value in being the favourite in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

    Three of the four underdogs, the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, prevailed to progress to Conference Championship weekend.

    An incredible overtime win over the Buffalo Bills saw the Kansas City Chiefs, the sole favourite to prevail, join them in moving one game away from the Super Bowl.

    Despite a victory in a game many have already labelled as the best playoff game of all time, the Chiefs' position in the Super Bowl odds by Stats Perform's rest-of-season projection has gone down, with the Rams leapfrogging them and taking their spot as the team most likely to lift the Lombardi Trophy on February 13.

    So how has a week of action in which the Chiefs were victorious flipped the odds against Kansas City?

    Hollywood ending in store for LA?

    Rest-of-season or, in this case, postseason projection, projects every future game to give a predicted win percentage for each team across its remaining games. Rather than being a simulator of future games, the projections are calculated by looking at each team's quarterback and QB efficiency versus expected – performance in terms of yards added in expected passing situations – as well as team values for pass protection/pass rush, skill position players/coverage defenders and run blocking/run defense.

    For the playoffs, the projection has been used to calculate each team's odds of winning a home game against every postseason team, with those predictions then used to forecast each franchise's chances of reaching and winning the Super Bowl.

    Last week, prior to the Divisional games, the Chiefs were given a 27 per cent shot to win the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons, just ahead of the Rams on 26.3 per cent.

    Following their respective victories, the Chiefs are viewed as having a 37.84 per cent chance of taking the silverware back to Missouri. The more likely outcome, at least according to ROS, is that the trophy stays at SoFi Stadium with the Rams, whose odds of winning it for only the second time in franchise history have ballooned to 38.21.

    It is not a huge margin between the two, but the change at the top is enough to raise eyebrows given how devastating the Chiefs were on offense in defeating the Bills.

    But the Rams' position as the new Super Bowl favourite is more a reflection of the potential opponents, rather than a commentary on the merits of the respective teams.

    Another nail-biter for the Chiefs

    Kansas City already has experience of one nerve-shredding Super Bowl with an NFC West opponent, coming back from 20-10 down in the fourth quarter to beat the 49ers two years ago in Super Bowl LIV.

    And ROS expects either a meeting with the Rams or a rematch with the Niners to be similarly tense.

    The Chiefs would not be considered favourites in a home game with the Rams, Kansas City given just a 45.2 per cent chance to triumph.

    That number improves significantly in a matchup with the 49ers, against whom the Chiefs have 58.2 per cent odds of winning a home game.

    It is still not an overly decisive margin, however, and pales in comparison to the Rams' prospects of beating the alternative AFC representative, the Bengals.

    Cincinnati would have just a 16.8 per cent shot of winning a road game with Los Angeles, and those odds improve to just 19.8 per cent in a home game.

    In other words, while a close game likely beckons for the Chiefs regardless of who wins the NFC Championship Game, an upset win for the Bengals in Kansas City would make the Rams or the Niners (72.1 per cent home game, 67.2 per cent away game) clear favourites to win the Super Bowl on the neutral field site at SoFi Stadium.

    The Bengals' status as rank outsiders even after making it this far is in part based on the struggles of an offensive line that ranked 25th in Stats Perform's pass protection win rate and allowed nine sacks in the Divisional Round win over the Tennessee Titans.

    San Francisco (first), Los Angeles (second) and the Chiefs (15th) each ranked in the top half of the NFL in pass-rush win rate, meaning Cincinnati will be at a clear disadvantage in the trenches in the AFC Championship Game and in a potential Super Bowl matchup.

    The 2021 NFL season has been full of surprises, but the numbers clearly point to the Rams playing in a home Super Bowl against the Chiefs. 

    So, is everybody ready for Niners-Bengals?

  • Bengals believe Burrow can handle Chiefs test as Super Bowl dream gets closer Bengals believe Burrow can handle Chiefs test as Super Bowl dream gets closer

    Joe Burrow is well placed to cope with one of the NFL's loudest venues as the Cincinnati Bengals look to spring a huge upset and keep their Super Bowl dream alive.

    That is the view of Bengals wider receiver Tyler Boyd as the Bengals prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

    The Chiefs are playing in their fourth straight AFC Championship Game and seeking to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl.

    Cincinnati have impressed in beating the Las Vegas Raiders and number one seed Tennessee Titans in the postseason so far.

    But they must now find another level to beat a Chiefs squad led by star quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the road, at a venue that is known for its vociferous home support. 

    "It's really tough," Boyd said about the challenge facing the Bengals at Arrowhead.

    "I think a lot of the guys and specifically Joe are kind of ready for that.

    "Because guys like him and [Ja'Marr] Chase and guys who played in the SEC [Southeastern Conference], they played against opponents where there were hundreds of thousands of fans in the stadium.

    "We're just going to have to be perfect on our hand signals and with the communication.

    "We've got to stay locked in and keep eyes on the quarterback and he'll just get us in the right calls and we'll know what we will be doing."

    The formidable Mahomes has reached the conference championship in all four of his seasons as a regular NFL starter.

    At 26 years old, he will become the youngest QB to start in four different conference championship games, beating the record of Donovan McNabb, who was 28 at the time of his fourth such game in 2004.

    But the Bengals and Burrow have hit form at the perfect time, a fine run that included winning in Week 17 against the Chiefs in a 34-31 thriller when they had home advantage.

    Burrow has been in electric form and threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns in that statement victory, while Chase dominated the Chiefs with 11 catches for 266 yards and three scores.

    That performance meant QB Burrow became the first player in NFL history with 400+ pass yards, 4+ pass TDs and zero INTs in consecutive games, having also done so in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens.

    Chase, meanwhile, broke the single-game rookie receiving yards record.

    The rookie caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards with 13 TDs in an incredible season, forming part of an impressive receiving corps with Tee Higgins (74 catches for 1,091 yards) and Boyd (67 and 828).

    Boyd agreed with recent assessments from coach Zac Taylor and Burrow that the unselfishness of the trio has been key to their success.

    "It's because we all know how good we are as a group," Boyd said of the receivers. "We all have great friendships and we all care for each other. We all know our value in the league and on this team.

    "So some games every guy can't get their rocks off when they want. Even when there are times where they probably have been open a few times and the ball is not coming their way.

    "But at the end of the day, we all trust Joe to throw it to the guy that's open or he feels like he has the best chance on that specific play."

    Now in his sixth season, Boyd is one of the longer-serving players in the Bengals roster having played 89 games, with this being his first postseason experience.

    He said: "I'm all about winning now. I didn't have a 1,000-yard receiving season. I did everything I could do early in my career. But now at this point, I just want to win.

    "I'm trying to get to and achieve the milestones that I've been wanting to reach early in my career.

    "Guys are coming in now like Ja'Marr Chase and all the other guys that are stepping foot into this organisation.

    "Joe Mixon and I and the other guys that have been here are replaying that voice in people's heads of what we want to be as a team. As a team perspective and not just single individual goals."

    Despite being underdogs, the Bengals are dreaming of a Super Bowl berth against the Los Angeles Rams or San Francisco 49ers.

    Boyd said: "It feels great now to say that we are collectively a great unit all around and knowing that we have a superior team now. We can go out there and beat any team.

    "I think in my lifetime [the Super Bowl] would probably be the biggest milestone for me, the best achievement in my whole sports career.

    "That's the reason why I've been playing. I have been through a heck of a roller coaster ride, ups and downs and injuries and things like that.

    "It's just like a dream come true. You wake up, then you're playing in the Super Bowl and you win and you talk Disney World and you have your kids and your family on the field.

    "It's kind of a surreal feeling that I would love and want to go through. To even be a part of playing in some historic game, it would mean everything."

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