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Preseason Power Rankings No. 6: New Orleans Saints

drew-brees-sean-payton-saints-7b0eb0f96d81cbae_large Getty Images

The Saints are in an interesting position.

There might not be a team in the NFL as good as the thing they do than the Saints are at throwing the football.

The combination of Sean Payton and Drew Brees continue to be one of the best coach-quarterback pairings, and now that the contract unpleasantness with tight end* Jimmy Graham is over, their offensive weapons are in place, mostly intact from last year.

But where does that get them?

When the top teams in the NFC are playing power football, can the Saints push beyond big fantasy stats with finesse?

They benefit by being different from the teams that topped the conference last year (the Panthers likewise want to play physically), but this year will be a test to see if that difference is meaningful.

Brees is still at the top of his game, but that might not be enough any more.


Did we mention Drew Brees was good at throwing the ball?

He threw for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions last year.

And with Graham paid, they still have an impressive array of targets.

Marques Colston is still producing at a high level, and even with a change in the backfield (more on that in a moment), they’re going to be able to move the ball.

Payton is tremendous at the chess match of offense, and incorporating some new guys into the scheme will allow them to develop that capability.

Adding first-round speedster Brandin Cooks should more than make up for the departure of Lance Moore, especially with Kenny Stills developing into a more dependable target.


Last year, the Saints’ defense might have been better than their offense, or perhaps it was just by contrast to the year before.

Rob Ryan transformed a group that set a league record for yards allowed in 2012, and it’s not as if they had a gigantic personnel upgrade.

Ryan was patching together parts, and injuries didn’t help.

But Junior Galette emerged as a legitimate outside linebacker option, and defensive end Cameron Jordan had a breakout year with 12.5 sacks.

The offseason’s big acquisition, safety Jairus Byrd, ought to be able to make a big impact, paired alongside Kenny Vaccaro. That enthusiasm was dampened a bit when Byrd needed back surgery, knocking him out of most of the offseason work.

The only problem is, the Saints still might not have sufficient personnel on that side of the ball, so regression is a real possibility.

They finally pared away some of the old parts on defense (cutting Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer), which might have been necessary.

But other than bringing in last-legs cornerback Champ Bailey, there wasn’t the kind of influx of talent they might have needed.

They improved last year based largely on energy and emotion, and we’ll see how long that lasts in the face of a talent discrepancy.


The Saints traded a complementary running back, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a headline move.

But that back was Darren Sproles, who was such an integral part of their offense, catching 71 passes last year.

Replacing him will be a huge challenge, and they’re going to be relying on a deep group of backs.

Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram will likely get most of the carries, but Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet will need to make a big step to pick up the slack from Sproles’ departure.

Cooks might be the biggest beneficiary of the change, as they want to take advantage of his 4.3 speed. While it’s not a like-for-like replacement, he does have the same kind of game-changing ability as Sproles.

Camp Battles.

The Saints offensive line was a work in progress last year, but rookie Terron Armstead settled into a spot where they’re comfortable with him at left tackle. They were also able to hang onto right tackle Zach Strief and guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans return.

That leaves a hole in the middle, after Brian de la Puente left in free agency for Chicago.

Tim Lelito will get the first crack, but they brought veteran Jonathan Goodwin back for cover, giving them a reasonable competition.

It would also help if a young cornerback would step up opposite Keenan Lewis. They brought in Bailey, but all parties are probably best served if he’s able to limit his snaps a bit. Second-rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste gives them some new size at the position, which will enable them to match up better with the big wideouts in their division.


They’re going to be pretty good.

If the defense continues at last year’s pace, they can be very good.

But the Saints have problems local and national.

They play in perhaps the league’s deepest division, with the Falcons healthy and re-tooled and the Buccaneers on the upswing with Lovie Smith along with the defensively stout Panthers.

Then comes the matter of whether they can stand toe-to-toe with the Seahawks and 49ers to make a push for another title.

That makes the regular season of extreme importance. They’re a different team in their own building, so getting home field advantage might mean more to them than any team in the NFC.

If they can get it, the Saints could easily be a Super Bowl team.

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Sheldon Adelson playing hardball with Raiders over Las Vegas

HEMPSTEAD, NY - SEPTEMBER 26:  Businessman Sheldon Adelson attends the Presidential Debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York.  The first of four debates for the 2016 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by NBC's Lester Holt.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Getty Images

Raiders owner Mark Davis seems intent on moving his NFL team to Las Vegas. But despite a deal to secure public financing for a new stadium in Sin City, Davis may be running into a sizable road block that could scuttle chances of bringing the Raiders to town.

According to Ari Rabinovitch of Reuters, casino owner Sheldon Adelson said he’s willing to walk away from the commitment to the Raiders unless he’s able to secure better terms on a deal with the franchise.

They want so much,” Adelson said. “So I told my people, ‘Tell them I could live with the deal, I could live without the deal. Here’s the way it’s gonna go down. If they don’t want it, bye-bye.”

Adelson has played a significant role in getting legislation passed to raise $750 million in public money for the construction of a new stadium in Las Vegas. Additionally, he’s pledged $650 million of his own funds to the project.

Davis has spoken glowingly about Las Vegas. He’s referred to the city as the “new home for the entire Raider Nation”  and lamented Oakland’s inability to provide a successor venue to the Oakland Coliseum. However, the path to southern Nevada may not be as free and clear as he once hoped.

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Russell Wilson limited in practice with pectoral injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after being hit during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals and Seahawks tied 6-6.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

For the first time in five seasons as quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson did not fully participate in a regular season practice.

Wilson was listed as a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice due to knee and right pectoral injuries.

The knee injury isn’t anything new. It’s the same injury Wilson sustained in a Week 3 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Neither the knee issue or a high-ankle sprain suffered in the regular season opener against Miami forced Wilson to miss any practice time.

However, the pectoral injury is a new issue for Wilson. Wilson may have suffered the injury while being sacked by Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday night’s 6-6 tie. Chandler slammed down on Wilson’s right arm as Wilson attempted to throw a pass early in the fourth quarter. Jones forced a fumble on the play and Wilson was shown moving his throwing arm around after the play.

Seattle signed former Vikings quarterback Joel Stave to their practice squad on Wednesday to allow Wilson’s workload to be reduced.

Wilson never missed a play against the Cardinals and likely isn’t in any danger of being unable to play Sunday in New Orleans.

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How often do you want to see Thursday games?

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans players line up before a snap during the first half of the game at EverBank Field on November 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) Getty Images

I personally like Thursday Night Football, because I prefer watching one and only one football game at a time. Plenty of people don’t, especially since the every-week nature of it now involves forgettable matchups like this week’s Jaguars-Titans barnburner.

So that’s the inspiration for Thursday’s question of the day on PFT Live: How often do you want the NFL to stage Thursday games?

For a long time, the only Thursday football came on Thanksgiving with maybe one other special occasion elsewhere in the season. (At one point, the NFL avoided playing a Sunday night game against the World Series, moving that week’s game moving to Thursday night.) Now, nearly every week has a Thursday night game, with every team in the NFL at one point every season playing on a Sunday and then only four days later on a Thursday.

Is that what you, the fan, wants? The NFL assumes you do, under the theory that if one aspirin is good, the whole bottle is better.

But is it? Cast your ballots, drop a comment, and enjoy Thursday’s battle for the basement of the AFC South.

Before that, tune in for PFT Live, which features visits from former Eagles great Brian Westbrook and PFT’s Darin Gantt.

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Aaron Rodgers denies calling Brett Favre “grandpa” when they met

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 19:  A Packer fan holds a sign supporting Aaron Rodgers over Brett Favre during the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts on October 19, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay Wisconsin. The Packers won 34-14.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) Getty Images

I’ve been working my way through Jeff Pearlman’s excellent Brett Favre bio, hoping to experience it one page at a time without picking up any of the entertaining nuggets lurking in the latter pages. But I couldn’t avoid learning about one specific anecdote regarding the first time Favre met Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2005.

According to the book, Rodgers said this to Favre the first time they ever met: “Good morning, Grandpa.”

On Wednesday, Rodgers denied the claim.

“I’ll just say this: The first time I met Brett was on the practice field, and I could barely get a sentence out of, ‘Hello, my name is Aaron,'” Rodgers said, via Rob Demovsky of “Did I call him ‘Grandpa’ at any time during the three years together? Probably. But it’s in the same joking way that my man Brett Hundley called me ‘Grandpa’ three weeks ago on the field when we were doing a competitive drill.

“The story that was out there that I saw is completely 100 percent false, and I would dare anybody to test my memory on that. You guys know how my memory works. The end.”

It’s hardly the end, given some of the other stories told in Pearlman’s book. For example, Pearlman writes that, as a rookie, Rodgers bragged that he got a 35 on the Wonderlic test.

“Brett, what did you get?” Rodgers eventually asked Favre during a quarterbacks meeting.

“I have no idea,” Favre said.

“I do,” Rodgers replied. “I looked it up. You got a 22.”

After Rodgers left the room, Favre said to position coach Darrell Bevell and quarterback Craig Nall, “F–king Wonderlic score. Do you believe that sh-t? I run circles around his ass.”

At one point, receiver Donald Driver pulled Rodgers aside and said, “Aaron, we get it. You’re smart. Now shut the f–k up.”

We’ll see whether he does in response to the other contentions contained in the book.

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After four weeks away, Brandon Flowers returns to practice

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 06:  Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos carries to the three yard line on a 21 yard pass play to set up the Broncos's first quarter touchdown against cornerback Brandon Flowers #24 of the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 6, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers returned to practice Wednesday.

Flowers, who’s missed the last four games with a concussion, was listed by the team as a full practice participant.

His return would be a boost for a Chargers defense that’s been thin in the secondary since top cornerback Jason Verrett was placed on injured reserve earlier this month. Craig Mager, a second-year player, has been starting in Flowers’ absence.

Flowers, 30, is in his third season with the Chargers. He played his first six seasons with the Chiefs, who drafted him in the second round in 2008.

He’s been a starter when healthy for his entire career, and he has 20 career interceptions.

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DeMarcus Ware returns to practice

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Denver Broncos stands on the field during pregame warmups prior to Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

DeMarcus Ware got a double dose of good news on Wednesday. First, they caught the Wet Bandits. Second, he returned to practice after suffering a Week Two forearm fracture.

Ware practiced on a limited basis in advance of Sunday’s game against the Chargers. Also limited were receiver Demaryius Thomas (hip) and fullback Andy Janovich (hand).

Absent from practice were running back C.J. Anderson, who has a bone bruise in his knee that reportedly will keep him out for several weeks at a minimum, linebacker Brandon Marshall (hamstring), center Matt Paradis (hip), defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (ankle), and cornerback Aqib Talib (low back).

Fully participating despite injuries were linebacker Shaquil Barrett (elbow), quarterback Trevor Siemian (left shoulder), and defensive end Billy Winn (low back).

The Broncos lost to the Chargers 13 days ago in prime time. Both teams won in Week Seven.

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Moncrief back at practice, aiming to return Sunday

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Donte Moncrief #10 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in the second half at Nissan Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief was back at practice on a limited basis Wednesday.

Moncrief has been out since Week Two due to a shoulder injury. He’s proven to be both a big target and a reliable one for Andrew Luck, and his return would boost a Colts’ receiving corps that’s been hit hard by injuries.

Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said Moncrief would wear a no-contact jersey in his return to practice and would be monitored through the week. Moncrief has been recovering from a fractured scapula.

Pagano said he’s hopeful that Moncrief will play this week, and Moncrief told reporters he’ll “be surprised if [he] doesn’t play Sunday.”

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Lions’ Glover Quin is rich, but doesn’t spend like it

Glover Quin AP

NFL players who make millions of dollars only to go broke shortly after retiring are commonplace. They wouldn’t be if more players lived like Lions safety Glover Quin.

Quin is in the fourth year of a five-year, $23.5 million contract, but he’s still driving the same car he bought before he signed that contract, and he and his family live on just 30 percent of his take-home pay, with the other 70 percent going toward investments.

“You see so many guys around you buying cars, buying jewelry, doing this, spending money, talking about the money that they spend,” Quin told ESPN. “And you’re sitting there like, ‘Man, I’m living off this much money every month, and this cat spending this much money every day.'”

Quin invests 50 to 60 percent of his take-home pay in blue-chip stocks, and 10 to 20 percent in higher-risk private equity. He estimates that his investments have earned about as much for him as he’s earned from his NFL contracts.

“I’ve played for eight years and made this much money, I was in a couple investments for five years and kind of made the same amount of money,” Quin said. “It’s kind of like having a double NFL career.”

Quin said that early in his career, some of his teammates accused him of being cheap. By living comfortably if not lavishly, Quin is setting himself up to be rich for the rest of his life, long after some of those teammates have gone bankrupt.

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Denver police apprehend suspects in DeMarcus Ware burglary

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 08:  Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Denver Broncos reacts in the second half while taking on the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 8, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware returned home from the team’s Monday night game to find that his home had been burglarized, something he announced on social media along with a mention of the cameras he has installed in his house.

Since the burglars opted not to use masks while helping themselves to Ware’s belongings, the Denver Police Department was able to use clear pictures of their faces and the promise of a reward to solicit help from the public in identifying the suspects. It didn’t take long for their efforts to bear fruit.

The Denver P.D. announced on Wednesday that they have apprehended the suspects and that the property stolen from Ware has been recovered.

Ware said earlier on Wednesday, via Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post, that his Super Bowl ring was among the items taken and said he’d already started an insurance claim to deal with its loss. Now that he has it back, Ware need only worry about getting back on the field after breaking his forearm so he can help the team’s effort to hold another ring ceremony next year.

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Report: C.J. Anderson expected to miss time with knee injury

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 13:   C.J. Anderson #22 of the Denver Broncos runs the ball during the first half of a game against the San Diego Chargers  at Qualcomm Stadium on October 13, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos running back C.J. Anderson is going for a second opinion on a knee injury he suffered in Monday night’s game against the Texans, which is the first sign that there’s reason for concern about his availability in the near future.

More signs came on Wednesday afternoon with multiple reports that Anderson will miss multiple weeks as a result of the injury, which is being described as a bone bruise. Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that the second opinion is expected to give Anderson and the team a better sense of just how long he’ll be out.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said, via Mike Klis of KUSA, that the team expects to have that sense on Thursday. For now, though, it looks like it is safe to assume that rookie Devontae Booker is going to be the lead back when the Chargers come to Denver on Sunday.

Booker saw a big jump in playing time against Houston and responded with 83 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

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Todd Bowles says it wasn’t a tumultuous week

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets watches from the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 17, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Jets 28-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets, by all appearances, have had a tumultuous week. Their head coach says it wasn’t. Which makes us wonder how crazy it would have to be before he’d use that label.

“It is actually not tumultuous at all,” Bowles said of a game that included a torn ACL to quarterback Geno Smith and a postgame no-one-believes-in-me rant from starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. “Ryan said what he said. We had a conversation, we are all on the same page and we have moved on.”

Bowles believes that Fitzpatrick’s performance against the Ravens, which helped the Jets snap a four-game losing streak, can result in more strong play.

“I do believe it,” Bowles said. “Everybody needs motivation every now and then, and whatever a player needs to be motivated to help him play, I think he should use that. Ryan came in and gave us a boost, and he finished the game for us and got us a win. We had lost four in a row before that. Going forward, it will be his team.”

Like the Bears with Jay Cutler, the Jets have no choice. They’re still alive, technically, for a playoff run. Until they’re more clearly cooked, there’s no reason to test out Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg.

Regardless, the coach who never seems to be flustered by anything isn’t flustered by what happened on Sunday. If he wasn’t flustered by that, he’ll possibly never be flustered by anything.

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Texans sign Jeff Adams, place Derek Newton on injured reserve

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 15:  Alfred Blue #28 of the Houston Texans rushes up the middle as he gets a block from Jeff Adams #70 on Shayne Skov #48 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first half at Reliant Arena at Reliant Park on August 15, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans tackle Derek Newton is looking at a long rehab process before he can walk again after tearing the patellar tendons in both knees during Monday night’s loss to the Broncos, which leaves a return to football as something to put on the back burner for a long while.

As a result, the Texans have moved Newton to injured reserve. The team announced that they have signed tackle Jeff Adams to fill his spot on the roster.

Adams is a familiar face around the Texans. He signed with the team in 2014 and played in two games before starting the first two games of the 2015 season. His run in the lineup came to an end when he suffered a torn patellar tendon of his own and he failed to make the team this summer.

Chris Clark is expected to start in Newton’s place, which will likely leave Adams as the swing tackle moving forward.

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Hunter Henry practices two days after reporting concussion-like symptoms

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 23:  Hunter Henry #86 of the San Diego Chargers fails to pull in this touchdown reception inbounds against Keanu Neal #22 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers rookie tight end Hunter Henry practiced on Wednesday, two days after Chargers Coach Mike McCoy said Henry was in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

McCoy said Henry reported concussion-like symptoms after the Chargers won in Atlanta last Sunday. Henry being at practice Wednesday is a positive sign for his status for Sunday’s game at Denver, and McCoy said he’s hopeful that Henry will be healthy and cleared to play.

Henry has 20 catches on the season, three for touchdowns, and had his biggest game of the season with eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown when the Chargers beat the Broncos two weeks ago.

Chargers wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin did not practice. McCoy said he wanted Williams and Benjamin to “get some extra rest.”

Benjamin missed some practice time last week with a knee injury but played in last week’s game.

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No changes to pregame procedures for Patriots-Bills rematch

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 02:  The officials discuss a penalty in the fourth quarter diuring a football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The last time the Bills and Patriots got together, a pregame scuffle resulted in thousands in fines but no penalties. In turn, no players received the first of two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls under the new automatic ejection formula.

No penalty flags were thrown because the incident occurred without the officials on the field. The officials weren’t on the field because they don’t arrive until 50 minutes before kickoff.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, no changes will be made to the current pregame procedures in advance of the rematch. Which means that the officials won’t enter the field until 50 minutes before kickoff. Which means that, with more than 50 minutes before kickoff, another scuffle could happen.

While extra attention will be paid to the pregame warmups, if game officials aren’t present to impose pregame penalties, the threat of an eventual ejection won’t apply. And with players like Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman already saying he’ll gladly take another fine, where’s the deterrent?

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Cam Newton: Running is my edge, I’m not going to give it up

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 16:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after his team scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 16, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Panthers quarterback Cam Newton met the media after the team’s Week Six loss to the Saints, he cut the session off after 90 seconds.

He was more expansive in his Wednesday press conference. Newton talked about the concussion he suffered against the Falcons in Week Four, saying he knew he was “messed up” by the hit he took while running the ball for a two-point conversion and that he learned he can’t take his guard down at any point while he’s on the field.

What he won’t do is take running out of his game. Newton only ran once against the Saints, a two-yard touchdown run, but said that his ability to run between the tackles is “forever my edge” in the NFL.

“I look at the game different. That makes defenses prepare for extra things,” Newton said. “So if you take that away, the defense is like ‘Yes, we don’t have to prepare for a quarterback.’ I’m trying to find any and every way to create edges for us, whether that’s me running around, that’s me blocking. I’m just trying to win football games.”

The Panthers haven’t had much luck winning football games this season and losing Newton again won’t do them any favors on that front over the final 10 games. Having Newton play a style that’s uncomfortable to him without taking full advantage of his talent won’t do them any favors either, though, so it seems the Cardinals should be ready to see Newton carrying the ball this Sunday.

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