Cam Newton Front-Runner for MVP
If Cam Newton wasn't considered the front-runner for MVP before today, he certainly is now. The Carolina Panthers' quarterback had another impressive day completing 15 of 21 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns (all touchdown passes came in the first half). He missed a perfect passer rating by five points and finished the game with a rating of 153.3.
Newton is probably having one of the best stretches of his career as a passer and dating back to Week 9 he has completed 65 percent of his passes, averaged 257 passing yards, thrown 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has thrown three or more touchdowns in four of those games.
Entering this year, the Panthers' coaching staff talked about how they wanted to focus on his mechanics and this effort has paid off. What's even more impressive though is how Newton is working through his progressions, taking shots deep when it's there and not staring down a single wide receiver. This MVP race is down to two players and right now Newton is looking to be the favorite over Tom Brady thanks to this recent stretch of games.
Josh Norman Contains Julio Jones
The marquee matchup in this one was between Falcons' wide receiver Julio Jones and cornerback Josh Norman. While it was a different wide receiver, the result was still the same as Norman proves to be one of the best in the game today.
Jones finished the game with 88 receiving yards but it took seven receptions and ten targets to get to that total with a majority of the yards coming on a 46-yard catch. While Jones did catch a number of passes, Norman did an excellent job of not allowing a run after the catch, minus the one long catch. More importantly, Jones was kept out of the endzone which is the third straight game this has happened for Jones against the Panthers.
Undefeated Streak or Health?
The Panthers have now secured a first round bye and as they continue to win, the question is raised about whether the team should play for the undefeated streak or start resting players in preparation for the playoffs. After today's game, the coaching staff may be inclined to start giving the second option some serious thought.
During today's game, the team saw Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly and Bene Benwikere all leave the game due to injuries. Now all of these were not serious, with Benwikere's being the worst, which Ron Rivera said after the game was a fractured leg.
The coaching staff did err on the side of caution as they kept Stewart and Olsen out of the second half which didn't matter because the Falcons never really were a threat in this game. While an undefeated regular season would be great, the end goal for this year as to be a Super Bowl championship. If this means resting players and sacrificing an undefeated season, that may just be what they have to do.