WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Newton and Manuel, the first freshman to start at the game's most important position for the Bills since Joe Ferguson in 1973, are both the kind of dual- threat signal callers that are en vogue now in the NFL but the Panthers' QB obviously has the edge in experience.
The numbers are there for Newton. The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft reached 8,000 passing yards in his 33rd career game last week, tying for fifth fastest in NFL history to reach that milestone. The Auburn product is also the only player in NFL lore with 8,000-plus passing yards, 40-plus passing TDs, 1,000-or-more rushing yards and 20-plus rushing TDs over that same span. All that said, however, he's just 13-20 now as an NFL starting QB and it's time to turn some of that production into wins.
Part of the problem is that Newton doesn't have a lot of help outside the numbers where veteran Smith is the only proven threat. Brandon LaFell has some skill but is prone to drops while the backup situation features the oft- injured Domenik Hixon, ex-FCS QB Armanti Edwards and return specialist Ted Ginn.
The Bills, however, are hurting in the secondary and will be without star safety Jairus Byrd (foot) as well as cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and Ron Brooks (foot) so it's now or never for Carolina's receivers to show up.
Buffalo, meanwhile, will continue to manage things with the raw Manuel leaning on their impressive running back duo of C.J. Spiller and Jackson. Spiller, one of the most dynamic runners in the game, needs to bounce back from a poor Week 1 effort. Coming off a season in which he compiled 1,703 all-purpose yards, Spiller was held to 55 total yards by the Pats.
"I think C.J. made some good runs and caught the ball (well)," Marrone said. "Sometimes there were things that were out there that we left out there. Whether it was us not finishing up front or maybe not trusting the scheme that we're in. Seeing color in the hole and trying to pop it out. I think a lot of things go in to that. I believe that C.J. will be fine and he'll get better and better each week."
This is the kind of game Newton has to find a way to win in the fourth quarter whether that's making a play with his arm or legs. Losing to a raw rookie at this stage of his development can't be tolerated, even on the road.
Another poor start by the Panthers will have many surmising the late-season improvement in 2012 was nothing more than fool's gold.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Panthers 21, Bills 20