Sunday afternoon will be a homecoming for several different people associated with the Carolina Panthers.
First and foremost, quarterback Cam Newton is expected to start for Carolina when the Panthers host the Washington Football Team on Sunday. Newton was signed by the Panthers before last week’s win over Arizona after spending the past season and a half with the New England Patriots; he has a free agent since the Patriots released him last summer.
Newton played sparingly last week against the Cardinals, but he made an impact when the ball was in his hands. On his first offensive snap, he ran for a 4-yard touchdown, and on Carolina’s next drive he threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson.
This will be Newton’s first start for the Panthers since a 20-14 loss to Tampa Bay on Sept. 9, 2019. In that game, Newton was 25-of-51 for 333 yards.
Newton will face off against his former head coach Ron Rivera on Sunday. Rivera — who was 76-63-1 in nine seasons as Carolina’s head coach — is now the head coach of the Washington Football Team, which upset defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay last weekend.
Washington has a 3-6 record, while the Panthers are 5-5.
Starting for Washington at quarterback is Taylor Heinicke, another former Panther. Heinicke played in six games for the Panthers during the 2018 season and was 35-of-57 for 320 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
So far this season, Heinicke has completed 65.7% of his passes for 2,184 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s also run for 247 yards and a touchdown.
The Panthers defense has found its rhythm again. Carolina is second in the league in yards allowed per game (280.7), first in passing yards allowed (173.7) and sixth in points per game allowed (19.3).
Washington lost its best defensive player — defensive end Chase Young — to an ACL tear last week. Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, had 26 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles before he got hurt.
Carolina is currently in the seventh in the NFC playoff picture, and seven teams will make it out of 16 in the NFC.
The Panthers hold a half-game lead over Minnesota — which owns the tie-breaker between the two teams — and San Francisco. The Vikings play Green Bay, which is the No. 1 seed currently in the NFC, this week.