It hasn't been a great year for Carolina or Cam Newton but they are at least finishing strong.
Newton and the Panthers hope to keep moving in the right direction Sunday when they entertain the moribund Oakland Raiders
Carolina's second-year signal-caller has picked it up recently, passing for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions with a 109.8 passer rating in his past five games. Newton also currently has 152 passing attempts without an interception, the longest current streak in NFL.
Last Sunday he threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers crushed the San Diego Chargers, 31-7, at Qualcomm Stadium.
Newton completed 19-of-33 passes on the day to help Carolina to its third win in four games. DeAngelo Williams rushed for 93 yards on 22 carries and also caught two passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Steve Smith led all receivers with six catches for 57 yards and a score.
The Carolina defense also constantly harassed Philip Rivers, who fumbled four times and was sacked on six occasions for San Diego.
"We started fast," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We gave ourselves opportunities early on in the game and we took advantage of a miscue to put points on the board right away. Once we did that, we really thought that, offensively, we could control the tempo a little bit."
The Raiders are also coming off a rare win when Sebastian Janikowski accounted for all of Oakland's points on five field goals, as the Raiders posted a 15-0 victory over the lowly Kansas City Chiefs.
Carson Palmer finished 18-of-29 for 182 yards for the Raiders, who snapped a six-game skid. Darren McFadden totaled 110 yards on a career-high 30 carries with four grabs for 39 yards, and Rod Streater posted 62 yards on five receptions.
"I think our guys needed something where they get a little bit of confidence," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "I thought they were totally focused in on what we needed to do and how we needed to play to win this football game."
Palmer now needs just 13 passing yards to join Rich Gannon as the only QBs in Raiders history to reach 4,000 in a single-season.
Oakland and Carolina have played just four times previously with each team winning a pair.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
If the NFL is truly about adjustments, it looks as it Newton has finally responded to the tweaks opposing defensive coordinators threw at him after his explosive rookie season.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and Rookie of the Year has rebounded nicely after the Panthers' disastrous 2-8 start in which he piloted a group which averaged 18.4 points per game. Since then Carolina has won three of four and averaged 28 points and a blistering 407.5 yards a game.
"I could not have done it without my offense, and they could not have done it without me," Newton told the Panthers' website. "There are a lot of guys going unnoticed behind the scenes that make this work. It is not a one-man team. I think that's what we have learned more as the season has progressed."
The Raiders, like everyone who plays Newton, must devise a plan to stop the read-option. Oakland had allowed over 35 points per game during a six-game losing streak before whitewashing Kansas City, the team's first shutout since 2002, but Brady Quinn doesn't exactly present the same kind of threat as Newton.
Offensively for the Raiders it's all about getting McFadden involved. Oakland is 4-1 this season when the former Arkansas star carries the ball 18-plus times. That's easier said than done, however, since Carolina has given up just 105 total yards on the ground in its last two contests.
"I think we all saw that when we execute that game plan the way that we feel like we're capable of executing it, we have a chance to win games," Allen said.
For years Oakland has been an undisciplined bench and nothing has changed in 2012 under Allen.
The Raiders tend to turn the ball over more than most, coming it with minus-7 ratio on the season. A few miscues is all Newton should need and expect the Panthers to pull away late, culminating in a third straight win for the first time since the Panthers closed the 2009 season on a three-game spurt.
"The biggest thing is that the guys continue to come to work every week, practice hard and continue to do the things we ask of them," Rivera said. "I know we don't have a chance to make the playoffs, but with the way our guys are approaching things, we can keep that momentum going."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Panthers 27, Raiders 14