No. 5: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
I wanted to put quarterbacks Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts on this list, but they fall short.
Palmer’s numbers against San Francisco (an 86.0 career passer rating) aren’t particularly impressive, and Luck’s offensive line in Indy is garbage. Health is a factor too.
San Francisco 49ers
Health could also be a factor for the No. 5 quarterback on this list, Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, whom the 49ers face in Week 1. Newton (shoulder) has been an active participant in practices leading up to the preseason.
Sure, he might need to shake off the rust. But there are plenty of reasons to suggest he’ll bounce back from the meh-like 52.9 completion percentage and 75.8 passer ratings — both career lows — Newton posted in 2016.
Newton is 2-0 over the 49ers during his career. It doesn’t mean much, and Newton wasn’t a deciding factor in either of those two regular-season wins. But that could change this season.
Why It’s Difficult for the 49ers
I’ve felt the Panthers were better than their 6-10 record from a year ago suggests. Injuries played a toll, and Carolina could have easily been reeling from a tough loss in Super Bowl 50 early in 2016.
Here’s why Newton could have a big game against San Francisco. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin torched the Niners in Week 2 last season for 108 yards and two touchdowns. The Niners don’t exactly have an ideal defensive back to contend with the 6-foot-5, 240-pound matchup nightmare.
Even if they did, rookie running back Christian McCaffrey is going to be a fun weapon at Newton’s disposal. McCaffrey, a first-round pick, should take a lot of pressure off Newton to stay in the pocket.
In a sense, San Francisco will have to pick its poison, all the while benefiting Newton.