T.J. Watt described the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive performance as "absolutely embarrassing" after they were routed 41-10 by the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers suffered their first season sweep at the hands of the Bengals since 2009 on Sunday, stretching their winless run to three games.

The humbling defeat leaves the Steelers 5-5-1 but still within striking distance of the final AFC Wild Card spot, which is currently possessed by the Los Angeles Chargers, who defeated Pittsburgh 41-37 in Week 11.

Bengals running back Joe Mixon gashed the Steelers for 165 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Steelers have given up an average of 180.5 yards on the ground over the last four games.

Though they are still in the mix for the playoffs, star edge rusher Watt knows that will change if they cannot stem the tide on defense.

"It wasn't something any of us are proud of," Watt said. "You never want to have that feeling coming out of a game. We put it on tape and now we have to own it, move forward and know that everybody sees what just happened and what we can expect moving forward.

"We have to stop this before it continues to unravel and become a bigger issue than what it already is. We can't keep playing like this. It's absolutely embarrassing.

"We're trying to solve it and clearly we're not doing a good enough job. We have to go back to the film and everyone has to look at the film and watch themselves critically and figure out how to stop this thing because it's continuous."

Head coach Mike Tomlin shared Watt's sentiments.

"It's alarming, it is," Tomlin said of the amount of points conceded. "We're not trying to play it cool by any stretch.

"We don't play football like that, but we have been our last couple of weeks, so some adjustments need to be made."

The Steelers' final six games are all against playoff contenders. They face the Baltimore Ravens twice and also have games with the Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

And veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is under no illusion as to how those games will turn out if the Steelers cannot make said adjustments.

Asked if this is the worst Steelers defense he has been a part of since being drafted in 2011, Heyward replied: "I don't know, I'm probably going to say yes.

"I don't look at the past. All I can do is worry about the present. There's a lot of football to be played, but if we do what we did out there today, we won't win another damn game."

Matthew Stafford insisted he was feeling "fine" physically as he faced questions over his fitness following the disappointing loss at the Green Bay Packers.

The Los Angeles Rams fell to 7-4 after losing 36-28 in an entertaining road game against Green Bay on Sunday.

Stafford threw for 302 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but also had his lowest completion percentage (55.3) of the season so far.

After making an electric start to the season, Stafford has thrown five interceptions in a run of three straight loses for the Rams, going for a pick-six in each of those defeats.

Stafford also had a lost fumble against the Packers and a report before the game suggested he was battling with back, elbow and ankle problems despite not appearing on the injury report.

"I am feeling fine," said Stafford, per ESPN. 

"Back was kind of barking at me a little bit that week [Week 9], but I haven't missed any time since then. 

"The rest of my body, is it 100 per cent? No, nor is anybody else's in this league at this point of the season.

"You have to take them all [my turnovers] individually. I know that is probably tough for you guys to hear, but that is the truth of the matter. That's the way I see it."

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been surprised by a losing streak that he says must end given the team's star quality.

"It's not a good mood – I can say that," he said.

"Of course I am [shocked]. We have guys that are way too good for us to be losing games like this and losing games on the road. 

"We've just got to get it right. We have to play better, everything has to be better because we're too good to be losing games like this but we're not playing like we're that good right now, so we got to correct our stuff."

Stafford still sits third in the NFL with 3,316 passing yards, second in the league with 27 TD passes and has a fourth-best passer rating of 105.2.

He has had 27 passing plays which have gone for 25 or more yards, which is third-best in the league in a tie with Aaron Rodgers, who was the winning QB in Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

The impressive Rodgers had 307 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception, as well as rushing for a score.

It was Rodgers' 60th career game with at least 300 yards through the air and two TDs, becoming only the fourth QB to achieve that feat after fellow NFL greats Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Cam Newton was benched after producing a poor display against the Miami Dolphins but the Carolina Panthers do not expect to change their starting quarterback.

A miserable Sunday for the Panthers saw them go down to a 33-10 loss in Miami, their third defeat in four games.

It was a rough outing for former MVP Newton, who recently returned to the team with whom he made his name as a free agent signing. 

He completed only five of his 21 passes for 92 yards and two interceptions, adding one touchdown on the ground.

Newton was replaced by P.J. Walker with the Panthers (5-7) down 20 in the closing stages, head coach Matt Rhule later explaining the backup had a better grasp of the two-minute offense.

Ex-New England Patriots QB Newton hopes to use the Panthers' bye week to get more familiar with the system before a Week 14 divisional game at home to the Atlanta Falcons.

And Rhule, who cited poor pass protection in explaining Newton's struggles, is not planning to make a move at a position where Sam Darnold and Walker have previously started for the team this season.

"I'm not making any changes right now," Rhule said after the game. "At the end of the day, we weren't protecting the quarterback at all.

"It wouldn't be fair to keep Cam in there and keep getting him hit.''

NFL Research said Newton's completion percentage of just 23.8 was the lowest by a QB with 20-plus attempts in a game since 2004.

Newton, who had looked much better in the narrow loss at Washington last week, had no complaints about Rhule's decision to take him out of the Dolphins game.

"I was fine with that,'' said Newton. "At the end of the day, it's still about being a professional. 

"At that particular point, I had more than enough opportunities to keep the game in the balance. There's no need to put up a fight with that.

"It really got exposed because of the situation, not having a full grasp [of the offense]. Nobody to blame, more so the situation I came into. 

"Having this week to kind of self-scout and dive into what the root of this offense is all about, that's what I plan on doing."

Newton added: "This is the NFL. Nothing's promised.

"Just because Cam Newton's on your roster doesn't mean you're just gonna win. Just because it's a feel-good story doesn't mean you're gonna win. I'm well aware of that."

It was a much better day for the Dolphins, who have now won four straight games to rally from a woeful 1-7 start to a 5-7 record.

Tua Tagovailoa was on the money with 27 completions from just 31 pass attempts for 230 yards and a touchdown.

He became only the fourth player in NFL history to record a completion percentage of 80 or more in consecutive games (minimum 30 pass attempts).

The only two QBs to have achieved the feat before this season are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, while Kyler Murray also did so for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 and 3 of this year.

There were other landmarks for the Dolphins too. Cornerback Xavien Howard claimed one of the interceptions on Newton to reach 25 for his career.

The pick meant he surpassed Marcus Peters to become the fastest player to reach 25 interceptions since 1990, doing so in just 67 games.

And rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who had nine catches for a career-high 137 yards, now has 77 receptions through his first 12 career games.

That is the second-best tally in NFL history behind only Odell Beckham Jr (91), who made an explosive start to his career with the New York Giants in 2014.

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh praised Lamar Jackson for his response to the shock of throwing four interceptions against the Cleveland Browns.

Former MVP Jackson became the fourth quarterback in the past 25 seasons to throw four interceptions targeting a single player – in this case, Mark Andrews – in a game after Eli Manning-Hakeem Nicks, Luke McCown-Mike Thomas and Mark Sanchez-Braylon Edwards.

He was also sacked twice on Sunday as he finished with 20-of-32 passing for 165 yards.

However, Jackson's throw for Andrews' touchdown gave the Ravens a 13-3 advantage and they saw out a 16-10 victory to go top of the AFC standings.

The win also ended a run of 41 consecutive games in which a quarterback to throw four interceptions lost the game. The last man to win after such a performance was Andy Dalton for the Cincinnati Bengals against the Ravens in 2013.

The Ravens became the only team in the Super Bowl era to score fewer than 17 points, have fewer than 325 yards in total and throw at least four more interceptions than their opponents and still win the game.

Harbaugh was full of admiration for the way Jackson did not allow himself to be overawed by his mistakes.

"Nobody gets flustered, and it starts with Lamar," he said. "Lamar wants those plays back and he's a massive competitor. Yet he doesn't let it take control of him. He's able to push it aside and he's able to go play the next series and give you great football.

"It's really a rare trait. To me, that's one of the things that makes him the quarterback that he is."

Jackson himself said: "I feel like those drives, when the interceptions came, we could've done something on those drives. We could've put points on the board.

"I just told my team, 'That's me. I owe y'all.'

"I mean, it's one game that it happened. They just made great plays on those interceptions. It wasn't like I was throwing it right to them."

The 8-3 Ravens are at the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.

 

The Baltimore Ravens dug deep to edge the Cleveland Browns 16-10, despite Lamar Jackson's woes in the NFL on Sunday.

Jackson threw a career-high four interceptions at home to the Browns in Baltimore, but the Ravens still prevailed.

Ravens quarterback Jackson threw four interceptions when targeting team-mate Mark Andrews in Week 12 – the former MVP becoming the fourth QB in the last 25 seasons to throw four INT targeting a single player in a game after Eli Manning-Hakeem Nicks, Luke McCown-Mike Thomas and Mark Sanchez-Braylon Edwards.

Jackson was 20-of-32 passing for 165 yards and a touchdown, while he was sacked twice by the visiting Browns.

That touchdown was a rare highlight on a rough night for Jackson, whose 13-yard throw to Andrews was enough to lift the Ravens after he scrambled back to around the 35-yard line before lofting a pass to the latter in the end zone.

The Jackson-Andrews completion gave the Ravens (8-3) a 13-3 lead, which they did not relinquish en route to claiming top spot in the AFC standings.

Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield combined with David Njoku for a 20-yard TD pass late in the third period, but it was not enough for the Browns (6-6).

Aaron Rodgers expects "greatness" whenever he is on the field after shaking off a toe injury to guide the Green Bay Packers to a 36-28 win against the Los Angeles Rams, though the reigning NFL MVP is set to decide on whether to have surgery.

Rodgers entered Sunday's showdown under a cloud, having missed practice in the lead up to the Lambeau Field clash due to a fractured toe on his left foot.

But the problem could not slow down Rodgers, whose three touchdowns fuelled the NFC North-leading Packers (9-3) past the slumping Rams (7-4).

Rodgers completed 28 of his 47 passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, while the Packers quarterback also rushed for a TD on two carries.

"When I step on the field, I expect greatness," said Rodgers after his dominant display.

"Anyone who's a great competitor feels the same way. I don't lean on excuses: not practicing, a little toe injury."

Rodgers, who suffered the injury during quarantine with COVID-19, added: "It definitely isn't the ideal situation not to practice.

"But if I can go out there, take mental reps, go through the plan and my preparation and feel good about what I'm doing, and when I get out there, I've just got to rely on my instincts.

"The beauty is it's an 11-person-a-side game, and I really feel the offensive line allowed me just to settle in."

Despite Rodgers' efforts, the 37-year-old could still go under the knife during Green Bay's bye to address the problem.

"[We're going to do] some more testing in the morning [Monday] and get a better view of what's going on in there and then make a decision [about surgery]," he added.

Tom Brady hailed Leonard Fournette's "huge" speech, which inspired the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a rallying 38-31 road victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Reigning NFL Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers needed a spark after entering the half-time break trailing the Colts 24-14 in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Fournette provided the motivation with an impassioned half-time speech and a career-high four touchdowns as the Buccaneers powered past the Colts.

"[It was] huge. They just made big play after big play. That's what it takes to win," said Brady, who posted his 51st game-winning drive, three shy of Peyton Manning's all-time record.

"You have to make the plays. There's not a lot of margin of error. There are really well-coached teams that have a lot of good players, and everyone's working hard to win.

"So, you're either going to make the play or you don't. And we didn't make them as much in the first half, but we certainly made them in the second half."

Buccaneers superstar Brady completed 25 of his 34 passes for 226 yards, a touchdown and interception as NFC South leaders Tampa Bay (8-3) edged a see-sawing battle.

It was Brady's first victory against the Colts since joining the Bucs in 2020.

"Not a lot of love lost, I think," Brady said, referring to his rivalry with the Colts. "It was good to win."

"I was like, 'You have to have a will and a want,'" said Fournette of his speech. "'You have to be willing to risk everything. Play by play, you have to want to win, you have to want to fight, each and every play.'

"I think they understood that message and played their lights out."

"You could tell the mood -- people's energy was down. And it wasn't like we [were] out there getting our asses whooped. It's just the little things separating us to win the game from them," Fournette said. "So just trying to boost everybody coming out. And thank God it worked."

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians added:" Great win. Coming here, this is a hard, hard place to win and [we] beat a really good playoff team that's playing good. It wasn't pretty the first 30 but it was real pretty the second 30.

"Good team victory – getting turnovers, scoring off turnovers. One of our better halves of football in the second half."

Aaron Rodgers was not slowed down by his toe injury as he guided the Green Bay Packers to a 36-28 win over the struggling Los Angeles Rams.

Rodgers entered Sunday's showdown under a cloud, having missed practice in the lead up to the Lambeau Field clash due to fractured toe on his left foot.

But the reigning NFL MVP shook off the problem with a pair of passing touchdowns while he rushed for another score as the NFC North-leading Packers (9-3) condemned the slumping Rams (7-4) to a third consecutive defeat.

Rodgers completed 28 of his 47 passes for 307 yards and no interceptions and the Packers quarterback also rushed for a TD on two carries.

The Packers led 20-17 at half-time and blew the visiting Rams away with a 16-0 third period, despite the loss of Randall Cobb.

Cobb was ruled out at the start of the second half due to a groin injury, having set a season high for receiving yards with 95 on four catches in the opening two periods, including a seven-yard TD.

Odell Beckham Jr. scored his first touchdown for the Rams on a 54-yard bomb from Matthew Stafford, but it was a tough outing for the quarterback.

Stafford threw a pick-six that overshadowed his three-touchdown display on 21-of-38 passing for 302 yards and two sacks.

 

Niners stay hot in San Francisco

Deebo Samuel's two touchdowns helped the in-form San Francisco 49ers top the Minnesota Vikings 34-26.

Samuel celebrated a pair of TDs before a groin injury cut short his outing as the 49ers (6-5) won their third straight game.

The 49ers star became the first wide receiver in the Super Bowl era to score a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games in a single season.

Elijah Mitchell put up 133 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries for the 49ers, while Jimmy Garoppolo finished 17-of-26 passing for 230 yards, a touchdown and interception.

The New England Patriots struck another blow in the race for the one seed in the AFC, defeating the banged-up Tennessee Titans to leapfrog them with a 36-13 victory at Gillette Stadium.

New England went into Sunday's heavyweight clash having won five successive games, and their ability to produce turnovers proved key in extending that streak to six.

Tennessee, minus their top offensive playmakers in injured running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown, committed four giveaways while the Patriots produced a flawless game in that regard, rookie quarterback Mac Jones recording his second 300-yard passing game of a stellar first season.

Both teams now stand at 8-4, with the Patriots' victory giving them the tiebreaker over the Titans, with another test of New England's Super Bowl credentials to come a week on Monday when they face AFC East rivals the Buffalo Bills (7-4) on the road.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine's touchdown reception and a 68-yard rushing score from Dontrell Hilliard meant the Titans only trailed 16-13 at half-time.

But their first two drives of the second half, sandwiched by a field goal for New England, ended in a fumble and a punt and Tennessee's slow start to the third quarter was exacerbated when Kendrick Bourne's 41-yard catch and run for his second touchdown of the day gave the Patriots a 26-13 lead.

The Titans drove to New England's two-yard line in response, only for Ryan Tannehill to see a fourth-down pass to Cody Hollister tipped and intercepted by J.C. Jackson.

That allowed the Patriots to stretch the lead with Nick Folk's fifth field goal and, after another failed fourth-down attempt from Tannehill, Damien Harris capped things off for New England with a 14-yard run as they sent an emphatic message to the rest of the AFC.

FOURnette stars as Bucs win Colts thriller

Defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailed by 10 points at the end of the half in a see-saw battle with the Indianapolis Colts.

But five Colts turnovers tipped the balance in the favour of the Bucs, Leonard Fournette's fourth touchdown securing a 38-31 victory and a 51st game-winning drive for Tom Brady, putting him three shy of Peyton Manning's all-time record, despite a late 71-yard kickoff return from Isaiah Rodgers that almost forced overtime.

The Bucs (8-3) have a commanding lead atop the NFC South, with the Carolina Panthers' defeat to the Miami Dolphins dropping them to 5-7. The 6-6 Colts remain firmly in the Wild Card picture in the AFC.

Bengals sweep Steelers

The Cincinnati Bengals moved within half a game of the AFC North lead as they completed their first season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers since the 2009 season.

It was a feat they achieved in style with a 41-10 rout, running back Joe Mixon the star of the show with 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns, with Joe Burrow's lone touchdown throw to Tee Higgins his 10th of 30 or more yards this season.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger endured a miserable day, throwing two interceptions and suffering three sacks to drop Pittsburgh to 5-5-1. The 7-4 Bengals will end the day atop the division if the Baltimore Ravens, who own the top seed with Titans' defeat, lose to the Cleveland Browns later on Sunday.

The New England Patriots moved into the one seed in the AFC, defeating the banged-up Tennessee Titans to leapfrog them into top spot with a 36-13 victory at Gillette Stadium.

New England went into Sunday's heavyweight clash having won five successive games, and their ability to produce turnovers proved key in extending that streak to six.

Tennessee, minus their top offensive playmakers in injured running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown, committed four giveaways while the Patriots produced a flawless game in that regard, rookie quarterback Mac Jones recording his second 300-yard passing game of a stellar first season.

Both teams now stand at 8-4, with the Patriots' victory giving them the tiebreaker, with another test of New England's Super Bowl credentials to come a week on Monday when they face AFC East rivals the Buffalo Bills (7-4) on the road.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine's touchdown reception and a 68-yard rushing score from Dontrell Hilliard meant the Titans only trailed 16-13 at half-time.

But their first two drives of the second half, sandwiched by a field goal for New England, ended in a fumble and a punt and Tennessee's slow start to the third quarter was exacerbated when Kendrick Bourne's 41-yard catch and run for his second touchdown of the day gave the Patriots a 26-13 lead.

The Titans drove to New England's two-yard line in response, only for Ryan Tannehill to see a fourth-down pass to Cody Hollister tipped and intercepted by J.C. Jackson.

That allowed the Patriots to stretch the lead with Nick Folk's fifth field goal and, after another failed fourth-down attempt from Tannehill, Damien Harris capped things off for New England with a 14-yard run as they sent an emphatic message to the rest of the AFC.

FOURnette stars as Bucs win Colts thriller

Defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailed by 10 points at the end of the half in a see-saw battle with the Indianapolis Colts.

But five Colts turnovers tipped the balance in the favour of the Bucs, Leonard Fournette's fourth touchdown securing a 38-31 victory and a 51st game-winning drive for Tom Brady, putting him three shy of Peyton Manning's all-time record, despite a late 71-yard kickoff return from Isaiah Rodgers that almost forced overtime.

The Bucs (8-3) have a commanding lead atop the NFC South, with the Carolina Panthers' defeat to the Miami Dolphins dropping them to 5-7. The 6-6 Colts remain firmly in the Wild Card picture in the AFC.

Bengals sweep Steelers

The Cincinnati Bengals moved within half a game of the AFC North lead as they completed their first season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers since the 2009 season.

It was a feat they achieved in style with a 41-10 rout, running back Joe Mixon the star of the show with 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns, with Joe Burrow's lone touchdown throw to Tee Higgins his 10th of 30 or more yards this season.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger endured a miserable day, throwing two interceptions and suffering three sacks to drop Pittsburgh to 5-5-1. The 7-4 Bengals will end the day atop the division if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Cleveland Browns later on Sunday.

The Tennessee Titans' 2021 hopes took a further hit on Saturday when the team placed wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve.

The Titans are the top seeds in the AFC heading into Sunday's big game against the New England Patriots, but they are missing a host of key men on offense.

Superstar running back Derrick Henry suffered a Jones fracture in Week 8, having tallied 937 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns to that point – the best start to a season in his career.

Julio Jones then followed Henry onto the IR less than two weeks later due to the hamstring problem that had hampered both the start of his Titans career and his last year with the Atlanta Falcons.

Tennessee still managed to extend their winning run to six games until it was halted in dismal fashion against the struggling Houston Texans last time out.

And Brown, who had 11 receiving TDs in 2020 in his second straight 1,000-yard season, suffered a chest injury in that game that will now keep him out of at least the next three.

This development represents a further blow to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was erratic against the Texans, throwing for 323 passing yards and a touchdown after tying his career-high 35 completions but also tossing four interceptions from five pickable passes.

Rookie Dez Fitzpatrick is likely to get his chance against the Patriots, although Golden Tate is on the practice squad and could earn a promotion after Tennessee's Week 13 bye.

The 8-3 Titans have already failed to replace a key piece with one big-name veteran, however, with Adrian Peterson lasting just three games after Henry's designation before he was waived.

Sequels rarely live up to the standard of the original. While Cam Newton's return to the Carolina Panthers stands as one of the most sentimentally fulfilling stories of the 2021 NFL season, the odds of him living up to his achievements during his spectacular first spell with the team are slim.

Yet through two appearances and one start, Newton's second act in Charlotte appears to be one worthy of the price of admission, if not one that will yield the honours that came during their initial nine-season association.

The Panthers lost in Week 11 with Newton starting at quarterback, a 27-21 defeat to the Washington Football Team and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera dealing a significant blow to hopes of securing a Wild Card berth in the NFC.

But the Panthers are a long way from being dead in the water and, while Newton is not the player he was when he won the MVP in 2015, his performance against Washington at least suggested his encouraging play in preseason for the New England Patriots was not a mirage.

At 5-6, Carolina can ill-afford too many more slip-ups if the Panthers are to return to the playoffs, raising the question: can Cam Newton save their season?

An upgrade over Darnold

It's a very small sample size, but the early evidence indicates Newton, the man head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers let go after the 2019 season, represents an upgrade of his most recent batch of successors.

In the defeat to Washington, Newton delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.5 per cent of his passes, according to Stats Perform data, and did not throw a single interceptable pass.

Newton was brought back to replace the injured Sam Darnold, whom the Panthers traded for in the offseason. Darnold's well-thrown percentage of 80 for the season is still above the league average of 78.5, but his pickable pass rate of 4.21 per cent is inferior to the league-wide average of 3.62, Carolina's hopes of turning around his career after a dismal start with the New York Jets quickly fading.

The threat posed by Newton's athletic upside was also apparent last week. He averaged 5.86 yards per carry on designed runs, including a 24-yard rushing touchdown on a perfectly executed zone-read.

Prior to that score, Newton threw the Panthers' first touchdown of the game by faking a quarterback draw up the middle to draw up the two safeties and a middle linebacker guarding the endzone, giving him a much simpler throw to D.J. Moore on the slant route.

Darnold can himself make an impact with his legs, however, the combination of Newton's accuracy throwing the ball and his more pronounced threat on the ground led to an exciting albeit losing effort that gives optimism the Panthers' offense can be more potent as he digests Joe Brady's playbook.

Yet one element of his supporting cast may limit the ceiling of a Newton-led attack.

Protection issues a pressing concern

Newton is not short of elite talent around him. Christian McCaffrey delivered a reminder of his status as one of the game's top all-round running backs last Sunday. He demonstrated his burst by averaging 3.7 yards before contact per attempt and his ability to evade defenders in the backfield with an average of 5.5 yards per carry on rush attempts where there was a rush disruption.

Additionally, McCaffrey hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Newton, one on which the quarterback showcased exquisite touch and placement to loft the ball over the outstretched arm of a linebacker and into the running back's grasp.

Top receiver Moore is producing a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he is targeted, 68 per cent of the time, with his burn yards per route average of 3.3 putting him tied for 11th among wideouts with at least 10 targets.

Newton and McCaffrey being on the field at the same time can put defenses in a significant bind when faced with the zone-read, as Newton's rushing score against Washington proved, with both substantial threats to gain major yardage on the ground.

Moore's continued ascension gives Newton a bonafide number one receiver, yet the impact of having two top-tier skill-position weapons will be mitigated if the Panthers cannot improve on the offensive line.

Indeed, the Panthers entered Week 12 ranked 30th in pass protection win percentage while only the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have allowed more quarterback pressures than Carolina's 204.

Even in his 11th season, Newton boasts a skill set ideally suited to the modern game and has the weapons to succeed, yet his ability to do so will be restricted if he is under duress as much as Panthers signal-callers have been in 2021.

Home stretch filled with obstacles

The hope for Carolina this month comes in the form of that Dolphins offensive line, which a Panthers defense allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.91) in the NFL faces in Week 12.

Yet beyond this week and games with the Atlanta Falcons and a seemingly crumbling New Orleans Saints team, the schedule offers little for the Panthers to get excited about.

They face defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady, unlikely to be daunted by the Carolina defense, twice before the end of the regular season, while a Buffalo Bills team whose defense is well-positioned to take advantage of poor pass protection and whose offense is tied for the league lead with 37 touchdowns host the Panthers in Week 15.

Carolina's remaining schedule is the eighth toughest in the NFL by winning percentage and, in a race for the Wild Card spots with three surging teams in the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, the chances of the Panthers overcoming such a hurdle look small, particularly given the potentially fatal flaw they have up front.

Still, the combination of Newton, McCaffrey, Moore and one of the most efficient defenses in the league at least offers reason for hope. Can Newton save Carolina's season? Probably not, but he gives them a better shot than any other quarterback they have started this season.

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is expecting "a lot more" from star duo Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller in Sunday's NFL showdown against the Green Bay Packers.

Beckham and Miller will make their second appearance since joining the Rams when the 7-3 Los Angeles franchise visit Lambeau Field.

After his release from the Cleveland Browns, Beckham debuted in the 31-10 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10 before the team's bye – the three-time Pro Bowler caught two passes for 18 yards.

Miller – acquired from the Denver Broncos in a blockbuster trade – was inactive for his first game before debuting against the 49ers, playing 45 of 68 snaps while recording two tackles.

McVay is anticipating an increased role for Beckham and Miller against the 8-3 Packers this week.

"A lot more, hopefully," McVay told reporters on Friday when asked if he expected to get more out of the pair in their second appearance for the Rams.

"Odell [is] just getting more familiar," McVay said. "I mean for him to be able to even play in the game against the Niners is an incredible credit to him."

"It helps because he's getting up to speed mentally," McVay added. "You don't take for granted how important those physical reps and the rapport that he and Matthew are continuing to develop is and so because we'll do a little bit more reps today, we'll end up getting about the same amount that we would in a normal week, so it will be a good thing, but he's done great."

McVay said: "Von did a good job, played a lot of snaps. I think he'll be that much more healthy, that much more fresh coming off the bye and giving his ankle another handful of days to continue to make progress and steps in the right direction without having any setbacks over these last couple of weeks."

Miller has been dealing with an ankle issue and the Super Bowl MVP added: "I'm feeling pretty good, feel a little bit more comfortable with the playbook, ankle is a whole lot healthier. So the bye week was great."

The Rams have lost two straight games following defeats to the 49ers and Tennessee Titans. According to Stats Perform, it is the first time the team have lost consecutive games with both being by double digits since McVay became head coach in 2017.

Green Bay Packers star and reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers will go up against the Los Angeles Rams this week, despite missing practice on Friday.

Rodgers is suffering from a fractured toe on his left foot, which clearly hampered him during last week's 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The Packers quarterback is yet to practice in the lead up to Sunday's showdown at Lambeau Field, but head coach Matt LaFleur insisted Rodgers will play.

"Well, he came down to practice," LaFleur told reporters on Friday.

"He didn't participate in practice, but he was out there and relaying the calls to Jordan [Love], just getting that practice of just saying the playcalls."

LaFleur added: "Yeah, he'll play".

Rodgers threw for a season-high 385 yards to go with four touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Vikings in Week 11.

It was the fourth time Rodgers has thrown for 375 or more yards, four or more touchdowns and no interceptions in the same game, which is three more times than any other Packer QB, according to Stats Perform.

Rodgers ranks second for passer rating in the NFL (106.6), only behind Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (110.4).

Through 10 games this season, Rodgers has completed 219 of 328 passes for 2,571 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions.

"It's been how it's been going the past couple of weeks," Packers offensive co-ordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "The one thing that I'll tell you is, my respect for him as a player goes up nonstop.

"Everybody talks about how he can throw the ball as good as he can, but his toughness is unbelievable. For him to do what he's doing with this going on is awesome.

"We trust him a ton and know that he's going to do whatever he needs to do to get ready for the game and to be able to go."

Green Bay fell to Minnesota, despite converting seven of their 11 third-down attempts (63.6 percent). It was the highest third-down conversion percentage for the Packers in a loss since Week 2 of the 2005 season, when the team lost 26-24 to the Cleveland Browns while converting 10-of-14 third downs.

Few prospective playoff teams have been scrutinised as heavily as the Los Angeles Rams in recent weeks.

Coming off back-to-back defeats to the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers, a Rams team considered a Super Bowl calibre outfit for effectively the entirety of the season faces the prospect of having to prove themselves all over again.

And they must do so against a Green Bay Packers team competing for the one seed, albeit with injuries that could well derail those hopes.

Potentially complicating matters for the Rams is that their last game may have provided future opponents with a possible blueprint to beating them.

The Niners claimed a fifth successive win over the Rams, crushing them 31-10 in Week 10 by sticking to a tried and tested formula that has continually paid dividends against Los Angeles, relying heavily on the run game and getting the ball out quickly on passing plays to negate the pass rush of Aaron Donald and recent trade acquisition Von Miller.

It is an approach the Packers could well adopt in order to mitigate the impact of their injuries. Green Bay's reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, himself battling a fractured toe, will be without his two best offensive linemen.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari remains out with a knee injury while the versatile Elgton Jenkins, who can plug holes at several positions in the trenches, suffered a torn ACL in last week's defeat to the Minnesota Vikings.

Even with Jenkins' best efforts, the Packers went into Week 12 ranked 21st in pass protection win percentage, per Stats Perform data. Logic dictates they will only fall down the standings in that regard now he is on the shelf.

As such, a move to a run-heavy approach built around the quick passing game seems prudent, especially with the Packers facing a defender in Donald who has won an astonishing 62 of his 95 one-on-one pass rush matchups.

Going with that plan may suit the Packers perfectly. Green Bay could get running back Aaron Jones back from a knee injury this week to boost a ground game that ranks ninth in rush yards over expected.

In terms of the passing attack, Rodgers' time from snap of the ball to releasing it is 2.52 seconds, faster than the league average for quarterbacks (minimum 10 attempts) of 2.66 seconds.

When running quick game concepts, Rodgers has delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball 84.7 per cent of the time - the league average is 81.7.

Put simply, after being tormented by a divisional foe that has consistently proven their kryptonite, the Rams may now be faced with having to deal with a markedly similar gameplan executed by the best quarterback in the NFL last season.

The loss to the 49ers led to the Rams being labelled by many as a soft football team. Such aspersions will only grow more vociferous if they cannot capitalise on the Packers' personnel deficiencies and avoid a third straight defeat.

With the trades for quarterback Matthew Stafford and Miller and, most recently, the signing of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, the Rams have pushed all their chips to the middle, but a loss to Green Bay in the same circumstances as their defeat to San Francisco may leave most expecting them to again leave the table empty-handed come the end of the year.

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