If the dynamic, energetic Cam Newton shows up to play Sunday, it’s not going to be a surprise. He plays only when he feels like it, which is about half of the time, and he was a no-show a week ago.
Of course, there’s always a chance the too-cool-and-casual Cam will go through the motions during the game and play the role of sore loser after it in the news conference, if he shows up to talk while wearing something resembling a Halloween costume.
Why is the mercurial Newton so tough to figure? Next question.
A bet on the Carolina Panthers is a tricky proposition mostly because of Newton’s unpredictable mood swings. The team goes as he goes, and things are not going great. In the Panthers’ four wins, Newton had eight touchdown passes and two interceptions. In their three losses, he had one touchdown pass and eight interceptions.
After back-to-back losses, Newton should be motivated to beat Tampa Bay, if only because a win would keep the media critics away for a week. Another reason he figures to play well is the dysfunctional defense he’s facing. The Buccaneers rank 30th in the NFL in pass defense by allowing 294.8 yards per game, and they will be without injured cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Robert McClain.
This is not all about Newton’s body language and right arm. Carolina, which ranks No. 3 in total defense, is getting its true leader back on the field. The team’s rock is middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is out of concussion protocol and cleared to play.
Kuechly’s return is bad news for the Buccaneers and quarterback Jameis Winston, who has been bothered by a sore throwing arm and shoulder. Winston’s attitude, effort and toughness are never questioned, so credit him for that.
Defense is the sore subject for Tampa Bay, which has slipped into the NFC South basement at 2-4 after a three-game losing streak. The Buccaneers are 4-9 against the spread in their past 13 games as home favorites.
The Panthers, 8-1-1 ATS in their past 10 as road ‘dogs, have covered four times in a row at Tampa Bay with three outright wins and a one-point loss.
Newton is due to show up, and Carolina definitely has the stronger defense, so the Panthers are the play as 2-point underdogs. Four more picks for Week 8 (home team in CAPS):
* SAINTS (-9) over Bears: A one-dimensional offense ignoring the forward pass is not going to work for the Bears in New Orleans. Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is 2-1 as the starter, yet Chicago has been banking on its running attack, an opportunistic defense and some trick plays. Drew Brees and the Saints, who rank No. 4 in total offense, have found their identity during a four-game win streak. While the offense still revolves around Brees’ passing artistry, Mark Ingram rushed for 105 and 114 yards in the past two games while getting a total of 47 carries. A defense that was humiliated the first two weeks looks totally different. The Saints are now every bit as physical as the Bears, but they are far more explosive offensively because Brees uses the entire playbook and Trubisky is still limited to the first page.
* 49ers (plus-12½) over EAGLES: This could be a flat spot for Philadelphia, which had to grind out a division win on Monday night and has Denver and Dallas on deck. The Eagles have far more firepower — Carson Wentz leads the NFL with 17 touchdown passes — but they also are banged up in a few areas, including the offensive line. Turnovers and play-calling blunders caused the 49ers’ wheels to fall off last week in a lopsided loss to the Cowboys. Despite his faults, rookie coach Kyle Shanahan has a winless team competing hard, and rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard can make enough plays to keep his team in this game.
* Cowboys (-2) over REDSKINS: The road team has covered six straight in this NFC East rivalry. Dallas’ defense is getting closer to full strength with linebacker Sean Lee’s return, and the streaky Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns and added a 72-yard touchdown reception in his best outing of the season last week. Elliott should be a workhorse in poor weather conditions. This is a so-called square play, but the Cowboys simply have more offensive weapons than Washington. The Monday display by Kirk Cousins was all too familiar — fat stats (303 yards passing and three touchdowns), a costly fourth-quarter interception and a Redskins loss in a big game.
* Broncos (plus-7) over CHIEFS: Similar to the Carolina play, this is about the better defense and a team responding to an embarrassing loss. Denver ranks No. 1 in total defense, and Kansas City ranks 29th. The Broncos were shut out last week for the first time since 1992, and quarterback Trevor Siemian is playing for his job. Little in the NFL makes sense, so look for Siemian to play surprisingly well while MVP frontrunner Alex Smith struggles. This line should hit 7½ by Monday, and defense should keep Denver within the number.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread