This Week in the NFL: Cam Newton makes case for NFL MVP _lowres

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) reacts after he rushed for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

It’s been a charmed season for the Carolina Panthers thus far.

They’re off to a 6-0 start, in control of the NFC South, and now quarterback Cam Newton is beginning to generate discussion about his worthiness as an MVP candidate.

There’s no question Newton’s performance in the final eight minutes of play against the Seattle Seahawks last week is the reason the Panthers legged out a victory. He completed 11-of-13 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown.

It was the definition of clutch, and Newton probably deserves some extra credit for getting it done this season without the help of any top receivers. He has tight end Greg Olsen, a decent receiver in rookie Devin Funchess and not much else.

But is he performing at an MVP level? Record aside, Newton has completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 1,078 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed for 225 yards.

There’s a case to be made about where the Panthers would be without Newton, and it’s fair, but where would the Patriots be without Tom Brady, Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers or Cincinnati without Andy Dalton?

All three of those organizations would be less than what they are right now without those players, and they all happen to be playing much better football than Newton. If people are hungry to support someone new, Dalton has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,761 yards with 14 touchdowns and two touchdowns.

None of this, of course, matters locally. Newton has the Panthers sitting atop the division, well ahead of the Saints. That makes him a problem, and that’s really the only statistic that matters.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to see how he’s the most valuable player in the NFL right now. He’s good, and the Panthers are doing good things, but it’s going to take more than one comeback to put him at the top of the list.

Nick Underhill

NICK’S PICKS: Underhill’s top five teams (this week)

1. Patriots (5-0)

They didn’t beat Indianapolis by a massive margin or make a huge statement last week, but they still easily won and remain the best team in the league.

2. Packers (6-0)

The Packers played the Chargers close last week, winning 27-20 and looked vulnerable at times. It wasn’t enough to knock this team out of this spot.

3. Bengals (6-0)

It’s amazing to see how everything is working for the Bengals. The playoff cloud still hangs around, but this team has a chance to change the narrative.

4. Panthers (5-0)

OK, time to take this team seriously. The Panthers are undefeated and made a statement last week. Maybe it won’t last, but it has to be acknowledged for now.

5. Broncos (6-0)

The Broncos are here on record alone. The defense is legitimate. There are serious questions about this offense, including quarterback Peyton Manning.

This Week’s Games


WHEN: 8:30 a.m., Sunday

Line: Bills by 4½

BRIEFLY: Bills have some significant injuries: QB Tyrod Taylor will miss second straight game because of sprained ligament in left knee. Veteran DT Kyle Williams of LSU (knee) is out. WR Percy Harvin (hip/personal issue) and RB Karlos Williams (concussion) didn’t make trip ... Jaguars could be without RB T.J. Yeldon (groin) for second consecutive week.

NICK’S PICK: Bills 21, Jaguars 17

Browns (2-4) at Rams (2-3)

WHEN: Noon, Sunday

Line: Rams by 61/2

BRIEFLY: Rams have won three of four in series. Both teams have lost three of past four this season. ... This will be St. Louis’ first home game since Sept. 27. ... Browns have gone to OT past two games, beating Baltimore two weeks ago and losing last week to Denver. ... Gary Barnidge is first Browns TE to catch TD pass in four straight games since Ozzie Newsome in 1981, including two scores last week. ... Rams have 19 sacks, tied for third in NFL. Robert Quinn has four sacks, tied for sixth, and Aaron Donald has 3 1-2. ... Rams rookie RB Todd Gurley has rushed for 305 yards with 6.2-yard average over last two games.

NICK’S PICK: Rams 24, Browns 20

Vikings (3-2) at Lions (1-5)

WHEN: Noon, Sunday

Line: Vikings by 1

BRIEFLY: Vikings have won 24 of 32 in series since 2000. ... RB Adrian Peterson had 134 yards rushing and 29 carries, season highs, last month at home against Lions. ... Peterson averaging 86.4 yards rushing this year, fourth in NFL. ... Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater completed 14 of season-low 18 passes, threw for TD, ran for score and had second-highest career rating in last game against Detroit. ... Lions QB Matthew Stafford threw for 400-plus yards last week for seventh time, passing Peyton Manning and trailing only Dan Marino (10) for most 400-yard passing games in first seven seasons.

NICK’S PICK: Vikings 21, Lions 14

Texans (2-4) at DolPhins (2-3)

WHEN: Noon, Sunday

Line: Dolphins by 4½

BRIEFLY: Texans punter Shane Lechler and new Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell were roommates at Texas A&M. ... Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins leads NFL with 726 yards receiving on 52 catches. He also leads league with 15 third-down catches and has had four consecutive 100-yard games to tie franchise record. ... Dolphins WR-PR Jarvis Landry of LSU leads league with punt return average of 19.1.

NICK’S PICK: Dolphins 27, Texans 20

Steelers (4-2) at Chiefs (1-5)

WHEN: Noon, Sunday

Line: Chiefs by 21/2

BRIEFLY: Steelers have won three straight in series. Chiefs’ last win was 13-9 on Nov. 27, 2011, at Arrowhead Stadium. ... Pittsburgh has won four out of five. Its lone loss was in OT to Baltimore. ... Third-string QB Landry Jones expected to start for Steelers. ... RB Le’Veon Bell has 390 yards rushing since returning from suspension in Week 3, second in league to Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman. ... Kansas City punted on first six possessions last week in Minnesota, then turned over ball on downs on seventh.

NICK’S PICK: Steelers 21, Chiefs 20


WHEN: Noon, Sunday

Line: Patriots by 71/2

BRIEFLY: Tom Brady has beaten Jets twice in row, eight of last 10 tries and has 21-6 record in all vs. them. ... Game marks return to Foxborough for CB Darrelle Revis, who helped lead Patriots to Super Bowl win last season, his only year in New England after six with Jets and one with Buccaneers.

NICK’S PICK: Patriots 27, Jets 24

Bucs (2-3) at Redskins (2-4)

WHEN: Noon, Sunday

Line: Redskins by 3

BRIEFLY: When these teams met last season, Bucs WR Mike Evans, then a rookie, became youngest player in NFL history to turn in 200-yard receiving game, with seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns. ... No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston has thrown for at least 200 yards and one TD in each of his five NFL starts. Winston also has seven INTs. ... Bucs have zero TDs in first quarter, getting outscored 38-9 in that period. ... Redskins’ problem has been third quarter: They’ve been outscored 46-3 in 15 minutes right after halftime.

NICK’S PICK: Redskins 24, Bucs 20

Falcons (5-1) at TITANS (1-4)

WHEN: Noon, Sunday

Line: Falcons by 6

BRIEFLY: Falcons QB Matt Ryan needs 83 yards passing to reach 30,000 in career. That would make him fifth-fastest QB to reach that mark in his 117th game, behind Dan Marino (114), Kurt Warner (114), Peyton Manning (115) and Aaron Rodgers (116). ... Ryan has 100 or better rating in three of past four games. ... Falcons RB Devonta Freeman leads NFL with 10 TDs, more than any Falcon scored all last season. ... Former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is set to start for the Titans with Marcus Mariota sidelined with a knee injury. ... Titans wrap up rare homestand with four home games and bye. Titans last played on road Sept. 20 at Cleveland, with next road game Nov. 1 at Houston. ... Titans have NFL’s longest home skid at eight straight.

NICK’S PICK: Falcons 27, Titans 20

Raiders (2-3) at Chargers (2-4)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m., Sunday

Line: Chargers by 31/2

BRIEFLY: This could be last game in San Diego between original AFL teams if Chargers get wish to move to Los Angeles area. If Chargers, Raiders end up sharing stadium in Carson, one team would have to move to NFC. ... Chargers have won six of seven against Raiders. ... ... Raiders WR Amari Cooper leads NFL rookies in catches (28), receiving yards (386).

NICK’S PICK: Chargers 27, Raiders 20


WHEN: 3:25 p.m., Sunday

Line: Giants by 3

BRIEFLY: Cowboys have lost three in row but have won last five games against Giants. ... QB Matt Cassel making his Cowboys debut, was 41 of 71 for 425 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions with Minnesota in 2014. ... WR Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) has 10 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns in three games against Dallas.

NICK’S PICK: Giants 24, Cowboys 20

Eagles (3-3) at Panthers (5-0)

WHEN: 7:20 p.m., Sunday

Line: Panthers by 3

BRIEFLY: Eagles forced five turnovers and sacked Cam Newton nine times in last meeting. ... QB Sam Bradford has five interceptions in last two starts, both Eagles wins. ... Panthers have won nine straight regular-season games dating to last year.

NICK’S PICK: Panthers 27, Eagles 23

Ravens (1-5) At Cardinals (4-2)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Monday

Line: Cardinals by 81/2

BRIEFLY: Only Cardinals win in series came in 1997, their first meeting, one year after Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became Ravens... Baltimore and ex-Carolina WR Steve Smith Sr. has four 100-yard receiving games against Cardinals. Smith has 45 career 100-yard receiving games, Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald has 40.

NICK’S PICK: Cardinals 21, Ravens 17


Nick’s picks last week: 8-5

For the season: 51-32