Carolina Panthers Have Unique Opportunity Sunday Against New York Jets

Austin PennyAnalyst IAugust 24, 2012

Cam Newton has an opportunity to turn some of the national spolight on himself this Sunday.
Cam Newton has an opportunity to turn some of the national spolight on himself this Sunday.

After all of the build up and hype that has surrounded the New York Jets this offseason, one would expect to see a team destined for greatness now that the preseason is nearly over and the final preparations are being made before the season starts in a couple of weeks.

You might expect to see a dog fight going on at the quarterback position between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.

You might expect to see Sanchez establish himself as the starter while Tebow becomes the backup he was supposed to be all along.

You might expect to see an offense that looks like they have the potential to score some points and make another run to the AFC Championship Game like they did in the early years of the Rex Ryan regime.

Instead, all we have seen from the Jets is a completely dysfunctional team and an utterly pathetic level of football played over the last two weeks.

Sanchez and Tebow have combined to complete 22 of 39 pass attempts for just 176 yards and a pair of interceptions. Neither has a touchdown, in fact the entire team has yet to reach the end zone in preseason action.

The offensive line has been a large part of the problem, letting defenders through as they please and giving up 12 sacks in two contests. Starting right tackle Wayne Hunter has already been benched ahead of Sunday's game in favor of Austin Howard due to his apparent lack of ability to block much of anybody. The running game hasn't been stellar either, although it has been much better than the passing game.

The Jets are averaging just over 160 yards per game in total offense, a number that will see them heading for the cellar of the AFC East rather than the playoffs.

Still, no matter how bad the team plays, they will receive huge chunks of coverage on ESPN, NFL Network and other news outlets across the country because New York is the epicenter of sports media.

That is why the Carolina Panthers have such a unique opportunity on Sunday Night Football this weekend. They play the Jets in front of a national television audience in their third preseason game, the game known as the closest thing to a dress rehearsal of the real deal when the lights come on in September.

It's not that beating the Jets would somehow validate this team or signal success for the upcoming season; the Jets are terrible at this point and there is no reason why the Panthers shouldn't beat them, and beat them handily. The opportunity lies in the fact that they will receive copious amounts of national attention simply for showing up and playing the game.

Cam Newton, despite storming his way into the NFL record books last season and signing multiple national endorsement deals, has not received near the amount of press and coverage that Tebow has as a backup and potential special teams player. This is his first time playing on a national stage since he won the National Championship at Auburn, and his chance to show football fans around the country that he is the real deal, and that he is here to stay.

Newton and Tebow have already been the subject of debates around the league, and have split time on the cover of this month's issue of GQ Magazine. The natural rivalry that exists between them will not fade any time soon, and the first installment on the field is set to happen on Sunday.

As the media tries to figure out the Sanchez/Tebow mess, the Panthers defensive line will have another matchup like they did last week against the Dolphins, where they brought down starter Ryan Tannehill three times and registered several pressures and tackles for loss. This will be another step toward instilling confidence in these players that they have what it takes to turn around a defensive unit that is no doubt the weakest link on this team.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers will be facing a team that has been outscored 43-9 so far in the preseason. With the starters likely playing at least the first half and likely having solid field position for most of that time, Rob Chudzinski will be able to open his playbook a bit wider and showcase the 2012 version of Newton and his weapons.

It is rare in the NFL that beating a bad team can do a great deal for your image, and the Panthers have just the right timing to do so on Sunday night. A solid outing and a big win for the team would do more for this team than any other preseason result will this season.