Cam Newton certainly makes things interesting. The Carolina quarterback scored on a bizarre 2-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining to lift the Panthers to a 22-19 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The victory raised Carolina’s record to 11-4 and it also secured a spot in the NFC playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
The Panthers trailed most of the second half, but Newton completed 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards in the final 3 minutes before turning a potential disaster into a game-winning touchdown. Newton fumbled the shotgun snap but the ball bounced back up into his hands and he cleverly picked it up and dove across the goal line for the go-ahead score.
Until the final drive, Carolina’s offense struggled all day. Newton threw for just 160 yards but he did run for 52 yards on 14 carries. Carolina’s only touchdown in the first three quarters came on a 103-yard kickoff return by Damiere Byrd.
Carolina can still clinch the NFC South championship, but it would need a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay in next Sunday’s regular season finales. However it goes it has been a nice turnaround after a 6-10 season last year.
The College Football Playoff is fast approaching. I, like many, find this season’s quite compelling because every team has a legitimate shot to win it all.
Another reason I feel the matchups are compelling is that three of the teams—Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia—all have better defenses than they do offenses. The only team left that I can see scoring on these defenses is Oklahoma. With that in mind, that is why I think the second-seeded Sooners will beat Georgia and ultimately win the national championship over Alabama.
Another reason I like Oklahoma is that they have the nation’s most outstanding player leading its offense. Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield is at his best when he faces quality competition. In his four biggest games this season (Oklahoma State, Ohio State and TCU twice), Mayfield threw for just under 1,600 yards (400 a game) and had a 15-2 TD-to-INT ratio.
Those who read me regularly know that I often go with the team that has the best players on the field. And that is Baker Mayfield.
The best player in the field often is the difference in close games and that is how I see the Georgia-Oklahoma game playing out.
The Alabama-Clemson semi-final matchup should also be a close affair. This is the third consecutive year these schools have met in the playoffs. The Tigers won last year in the Finals and the Crimson Tide won two years ago. Both programs are so good that I could see them trading off wins for years. With Clemson not having quarterback Deshaun Watson this year, I will go with Alabama advancing before being upended by Oklahoma.
Cam Newton on Sunday, December 24
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield