NFL | NCAA Football

NFL 2015: Can Anyone Stop the Carolina Panthers and Other NL Thoughts

The Carolina Panthers locked up a first-round bye in the playoffs on Sunday by beating their NFC South rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, in dominant fashion, 38-0. That might have been the easy part of the afternoon for the only undefeated team in the NFL. Now comes the hard part. What to do with Cam Newton and other key starters was the season winds down and teams are looking to make a statement against a team that really has nothing to play for except the history books.

Newton and head coach Ron Rivera will be the first ones to tell you that history isn’t as important as winning the Super Bowl. But should the team reach the big game with an unblemished record, that too would special in itself. Still, would Rivera and his staff risk injury to key players, including Newton, or will they sit them down to keep them healthy?

If the Panthers can beat their next three opponents, the Giants, Falcons, and Bucs — three teams with a combined record of 17-21, they will have locked up home field advantage throughout the post season.

Remember, too, that despite a run to the playoffs in 2014, the Panthers had to play without Newton for part of that run do to a car accident that injured the 2015 MVP candidate.

THE RACE FOR THE FIRST PICK IN THE 2016 NFL DRAFT

The Cleveland Browns did themselves a favor by winning their game on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers in terms of gaining momentum moving forward.

They did not help themselves in trying to secure the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

According to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, The Browns’ 24-10 win over the 49ers dropped the Browns into tiebreaker status with the Titans and Chargers. They each stand at 3-10, each anchoring the bottom of an AFC division with three weeks remaining in the regular season. The strength-of-schedule tiebreaker currently favors the Titans, whose opponents combine for a .479 winning percentage (the team with the weaker SOS wins the tiebreaker). Browns opponents are at .509, slotting Cleveland in the No. 2 draft position as of this week, followed by the Chargers (.521).

Since this is a draft that has no clear cut top pick overall and the class itself could be very weak, holding the top spot is not necessarily crucial like it was last season when teams wanted Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

Johnny Manziel looked solid in the team’s 24-10 win on Sunday, and now he holds a 2-2 record as the Browns’ starter this season. Management will have to decide if it wants to roll the dice with Manziel next season or look to draft a quarterback again for the second time in three seasons.

Veterans like Robert Griffin, III could be available in free agency or via a trade.

BREAK UP THE JAGUARS

The Jacksonville Jaguars put up 51 points in a win at home against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. The Jaguars 51-16 win was the biggest point total on offense in franchise history and once again showed how good this offense can be.

Blake Bortles threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns, and by all accounts did not play well in the win. The defense and special teams both scored touchdowns in the game. At 5-8, there is still an outside chance this team could make the playoffs and must win their remaining games against Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston do get to .500. Then, it could be anyone’s guess who takes home the AFC South crown. It’s hard to believe the Jaguars could actually host a playoff game in January of 2016.

Bortles now has 30 touchdown passes on the season versus only 13 interceptions. It is the second game in a row he did not throw an interception.

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