Carolina lost control of their playoff destiny last week with a crushing 24-17 loss in Tampa Bay. It was the Panthers’ fourth straight loss. Two of the losses came against teams with losing records.
For a coach who declared nothing short of a Super Bowl berth is acceptable this season, it proved to be too much. He fired a pair of defensive assistants and took over the defensive play calling last week. The team had its best sack performance against the Buccaneers, but couldn’t muster enough offense to pull out a victory.
To add injury to insult, quarterback Cam Newton admits his surgically repaired throwing shoulder is hurting. He couldn’t rule out more surgery in the offseason.
Cleveland became the latest victim of the Houston Texans last week, but still holds out hope of finishing .500 on the season. They are a better team at home with three wins and a tie captured in front of their rabid fans.
Players seem to be responding to interim coach Gregg Williams’ disciplined approach and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is oozing confidence, even if he’s not threatening for any post-season awards since Freddie Kichens took over the offense.
Injuries and notes
Cleveland defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (biceps) is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Safety Denzel Ward needs to get through the concussion protocol if he is to play.
Newton is not listed on the Panthers’ injury report. Cleveland’s Williams says he heard about the pain, but game films show Newton still has enough pop in his delivery to be as big a weapon as always.
Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen will end the season on injured reserve after tearing ligaments in his foot.
Kicker Graham Gano is also listed as questionable with a knee injury.
Ron Rivera told reporters he hasn’t worried about his job status since he started 1-3 in the 2013 season. But with a new ownership group looking for quick results, falling short of the playoffs could spell the end of his time in Carolina.
Of course, the job he’s done for the Panthers will make him a leading candidate for the multiple head coach openings expected, or already open, among the ranks of the NFL.
Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens could vie for more permanent status if they can lead the Browns to a winning or even a 7-8-1 finish. But you can never predict what Cleveland ownership will do, so we’ll just give kudos for the new atmosphere injected into the Browns locker room.
How to watch the Browns-Panthers game
Fox Sports will produce and distribute this game in the local markets, which means fans in Cleveland and Carolina can follow along on their smartphones or, internet-connected TVs thanks to companies like Sling, Fubo TV, and DirecTV Now.
DirecTV Now, Fubo TV, and Sling are among the leading providers of internet television. They offer the local network affiliates you need to follow your favorite NFL team, along with tons of movies, TV programs, and other entertainment carried by your favorite networks.
Internet TV companies like Sling, DirecTV Now, and Fubo TV provide all that for just a fraction of what it costs for cable or satellite TV. What’s more, is they do it without expensive and unsightly equipment and they’ll never lock you into a contract.
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Read More: NFL Week 15 Game Preview: Browns at Broncos
Who will win the Browns-Panthers game?
Carolina coach Ron Rivera’s decision to go for two points instead of forcing a tie at the end of their Week 12 game is looming large as the wild card scramble comes into focus. Cam Newton lost one of his most reliable targets in Greg Olsen and there seems to be some transition on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers should have urgency as they fight to stay in the hunt. But the Browns have a rabid fan base they respond to and a new sense of what winning is all about.