Cam Newton faces off against Colin Kaepernick in one of the games of the round.
The Carolina Panthers, in the NFL playoff mix after four losing seasons, face a stiff test Sunday against Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
The clash features two quarterbacks drafted in 2011 — that year’s number one draft pick Cam Newton of Carolina and Kaepernick — as well as coaches Jim Harbaugh and Ron Rivera who once played together for the Chicago Bears.
It was Newton who made the bigger splash back in 2011, when he was selected with the first overall pick in the NFL draft and immediately installed as the Panthers’ starting quarterback.
Kaepernick was taken 36th that year, and didn’t get his starting shot until last season, when he filled in for injured Alex Smith, won the job and helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl.
The two haven’t kept in touch since they were room-mates at the NFL’s draft combine in 2011, but Newton admitted he has followed Kaepernick’s progress.
“Obviously with him being such an explosive player and dominant player, I’ve tracked him and kept up with him ever since,” Newton said. “I’ve got respect for him. “I’m pretty sure he feels the same.”
Both young quarterbacks boast strong arms and explosive speed and are prime examples of the dual-threat quarterbacks trending in the league right now.
Each is his team’s second-leading rusher, Newton with 55 carries for 251 yards and four touchdowns and Kaepernick with 49 carries for 294 yards and three TDs.
“I think they’re both really great, both great players,” said Harbaugh, whose 49ers bring a five-game winning streak into the contest and sit behind division leaders Seattle in the NFC West.
“That’s all the comparison that needs to be made. They’re both great.”
Week 10 of the season kicked off on Thursday, with Minnesota snapping a four-game skid with a 34-27 victory over Washington.
The Vikings’ defense made a goal-line stand in the final minute to preserve the victory. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III directed a final drive that ended when he hit Santana Moss with a fourth-down pass in the corner of the end zone, but Moss was unable to get his feet down in bounds and the Vikings secured the win.
Minnesota improved to 2-7, but they saw quarterback Christian Ponder exit late in the third quarter with a left shoulder injury. Ponder completed 17-of-21 passes for 174 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Vikings running back Adrian Peterson ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
When NFL action resumes on Sunday, coaches will be in the spotlight in San Diego and Arizona, where visitors Denver and Texas will have interim coaches at the helm.
Jack Del Rio will guide the Broncos against the Chargers as Denver coach John Fox continues to recover from heart valve replacement surgery.
Del Rio, in his second season as Denver’s defensive coordinator, said he would leave the running of the Bronco’s offense largely in the hands of offensive coordinator Adam Gase and star signal-caller Peyton Manning.
“I’m not going in tinkering with things on offense or special teams,” Del Rio said. “We have good people there, and they’re doing their jobs.”
The Texans have also called on their defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, to stand in for head coach Gary Kubiak, who suffered a small stroke at half-time of a game on Sunday.
Kubiak has been released from hospital and attended Texans training on Thursday, but it’s not clear when he can return to coaching duties.
Until he does, Phillips said, “I’m just keeping the seat warm”.
In Chicago, the Bears will likely welcome quarterback Jay Cutler back from a groin injury just in time for a key NFC North clash with Detroit.
The Bears, Lions and Green Bay Packers are tied for the NFC North lead on 5-3.
The Packers, who lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken left collarbone in Monday’s 27-20 home loss to Chicago, will turn to backup Seneca Wallace as they try to keep pace in the division race, beginning with a home game against Philadelphia on Sunday.
Other games find Jacksonville at Tennessee, Cincinnati at Baltimore, St. Louis at Indianapolis, Seattle at Atlanta, Oakland at the New York Giants, Buffalo at Pittsburgh, Dallas at New Orleans and Miami at Tampa Bay.