By Ted Fleming
San Diego by the numbers
2012 Record: 5-8
Record vs. Panthers: 1-3
Streak vs. Chargers: W1
Last Meeting: Panthers 26, Chargers 24 (9/7/08)
Next Game: Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego (70,000)
The NFL has been chocked full of disappointing teams this season, the Carolina Panthers being one of them, but when they fly out to San Diego for their game on Sunday they will face a Chargers team many expected to be a serious AFC West title.
While the Panthers have long since seen their playoff hopes disappear there is still something on the line for the Chargers who still have the slimmest of chances to sneak in if they can run the table and get a lot of help elsewhere. San Diego snapped a four game slide last week knocking off the Steelers, their first win over a team with a winning record, but one more loss will drive a stake into their postseason coffin and quite possibly the job of head coach Norv Turner.
The Chargers must first get past the Panthers and despite their losing record they are playing their best football of the season. Carolina is coming off an impressive 10 point victory over the Atlanta Falcons and Cam Newton might very well be on the best roll of his brief NFL career. Don’t let the 4-9 record fool you, the Panthers could very well have a very different record because they have lost season games this year by six points or less and over their last six games are 3-3 and threatening to finish the season on a high note.
Cam Newton is rolling right now. For most of the early season he had more interceptions than touchdowns, by a wide margin, but his line now reads 16 TDs to 10 picks, a complete reversal of fortune. His numbers are buoyed by what he has done over his last four contest throwing 11 of those touchdowns without a single turnover and overall is nearing the 60% completion mark.
On the other side is the enigmatic Philip Rivers who, despite some rather impressive numbers, is having a rough time putting a complete game together which of course is hard to do when you are looking up instead of down the first being sacked a second-most 37 times. His record over the last three seasons is an unimpressive 22-23 and some are questioning his arm strength and decision making.
Then Chargers defense has been solid for the most part as they are 4th best against the run and with the Panthers more committed to the ground game they may have to lean more on Cam Newton to pull them out of third and longs if they continue to stay within that game plan. Newton is probably salivating anyway going up against a 22nd rated pass defense who are surrendering 242.9 yards a game. Newton is averaging a bit over that at nearly 248, but in his last three he has thrown for 275 with seven TDs.
The wild card in this matchup could come down to Cam Newton against Ryan Matthews who have nearly the same amount of rushing yards although they are at two different positions, Newton the quarterback, Matthews the Chargers running back. Both lead their respective teams, 640 and 685, respectively, although Newton appears much more of threat because of where he plays on the field and is coming off a 116 yard outburst and 246 over the last three games. The difference maker in this matchup is that Newton has rushed for 10 TDs compared to Matthews one.
Prediction: Panthers 27, Chargers 17
Panthers: Fullback Mike Tolbert played for the Chargers from 2008-11 ….. Head coach Ron Rivera coached with the Chargers from 2007-10, serving as the defensive coordinator from 2008-10 ….. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski coached with the Chargers from 2005-06 and 2009-10 ….. Offensive quality control coach Scott Turner is the son of Chargers head coach Norv Turner ….. Secondary/pass defense coordinator Steve Wilks coached with the Chargers from 2009-11.
Chargers: Secondary coach Ron Meeks served on the Panthers coaching staff from 2009-11.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.