Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) works against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Fresh off the Carolina Panthers’ 31-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, quarterback Cam Newton is one game away from becoming just the sixth Black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl. The Panthers have the NFC’s best record and perhaps its best signal caller. Newton’s had an MVP season and has guided a short-handed receivers’ corps to unexpected heights. Carolina will host the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday in a battle of two of the best quarterbacks in the league between Newton and Carson Palmer. If Carolina wins then Newton will enter elite company. Can he do it? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Newton’s been awesome this year, but the Cardinals hold a severe advantage with their secondary against a group of fill-ins at wideout for Carolina. I love what Newton has done and how the Panthers have competed but Arizona enters as the better-rounded team. Palmer has played good football as any quarterback in the NFL for a unit that has excellent options at both running back and receiver. The Cardinals’ front seven is strong and led by all-pro corner Patrick Peterson and the secondary is among the game’s best. The balance within the Cardinals will be tough for even Newton to overcome next Sunday.
Green: It’s not like the Panthers aren’t loaded themselves. The only weak area on the team would be the receiver position. But, just like other great quarterbacks in the game, Newton has elevated the play of his receivers. He’s a threat both running and passing and there’s a reason why this team is 16-1 so far this season—Newton’s been impossible to stop. He was a total threat this year, throwing for 35 touchdowns while running for 10. Arizona will have its hands full next Sunday and I fully expect Newton to join history.
Riley: Newton’s season has been spectacular but it’s still a team game. It’s going to take more than just Newton to beat Arizona in the NFC Championship Game. I think it’s safe to say that it would be a shocker if Newton just ran wild against Arizona’s defense next Sunday. The Cardinals finished the regular season with the fifth-best defense in yards allowed and the seventh-best unit in points-per-game. Arizona’s no slouch on the defensive side of the ball and their offense is good enough to put the Panthers’ stingy defense into awkward positions. Carolina’s defense finished right alongside Arizona in several categories, but since the first week of December they’ve given up games of 24, 35 and 38 points. Bad timing, considering Arizona will enter the game as the NFL’s second-ranked offense.
Green: This is the ideal matchup between the two best teams in the NFC so obviously both teams will enter the game loaded at several positions. It’ll come down to quarterback play, and Newton will have the advantage playing at home in Carolina’s first ever hosting of an NFC title game in Bank of America Stadium. Newton’s ability to prolong plays and move defenses with his legs just adds another dimension to the Panthers’ attack. Newton won a Heisman trophy back in college and he’s a heavy candidate to win the MVP this season. He’s hard to bet against and I won’t make that mistake. I look forward to him representing in the Super Bowl and capping off Carolina’s year with an 18-1 record and Super Bowl championship.