|Olsen set to return as Panthers visit Jets|
Cam Newton has plenty for which to be thankful this week.
His Carolina Panthers (7-3) won three in a row heading into their bye week and already eclipsed their win total from last season (six).
He's coming off his best performance of the season in a 45-21 demolition of the Miami Dolphins two Mondays ago, with 254 yards passing, four touchdowns and 95 yards rushing.
And now, as Carolina gets set to visit the New York Jets (4-6) on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, he's about to get his "dawg" back.
Tight end Greg Olsen, who's been out since Week 2 with a broken foot, returned to practice Monday and is expected to be activated off injured reserve for Sunday's game. Olsen, who played his high school ball about a half-hour drive from MetLife Stadium in Wayne Hills, N.J., broke the news of his return himself while doing television work for the Rams-Vikings game last Sunday.
"There was a little anxiousness," the three-time Pro Bowler said after practice Monday. "I kind of got up this morning early and, you know, you just want to make sure you remember how to do this. There is a little bit of a learning curve again when you've been out a while."
The 32-year-old Olsen has been Newton's favorite receiver since the two linked up in Carolina in 2011, Newton's rookie season. Since then, Newton has completed 398 passes to Olsen, the most of any Panthers pass catcher.
The Jets (4-6) have struggled to cover the tight end this season. They've allowed at least 67 yards to opposing tight ends in six of their 10 games, and six touchdowns.
After Carolina's win over the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 5, Newton was celebrating with Olsen in the hallway leading to the locker room. Realizing he was on television, Newton flashed his megawatt smile at the camera, put his arm around a laughing Olsen and exclaimed, "Just wait 'til I get my dawg back! It's gonna be over for you suckers!"
Not so fast, Cam. The NFC South is the best division in football, with a combined record of 25-15. All four teams have won at least two games in a row, including the first-place Saints, who are winners of eight straight following an 0-2 start. But the Panthers are coming on strong, according to head coach Ron Rivera.
"We're a completely different team than we were three, four, five, six weeks ago," said Rivera, whose teams are 2-4 coming off a bye.
Carolina center Ryan Kalil, who's played in only two games this season because of a neck injury, is hopeful he can play after returning to practice Monday.
Like Carolina, New York (4-6) is coming off its bye week but dropped four of five following a three-game winning streak. Still, the Jets are only a game out of the final playoff spot in the AFC.
"We control what we do," New York head coach Todd Bowles said. "We take them one at a time, and we have to try and win them all."
The Jets have been a much better team at home with a 3-2 record while Carolina is 4-1 on the road, with the only loss coming Week 7 in Chicago.
Well-traveled New York quarterback Josh McCown will e of his former teams for the sixth time this season, though he completed only one pass in two seasons with the Panthers while backing up Jake Delhomme.
McCown has already thrown a career-high 14 touchdown passes this season, including one in four straight games to receiver Robby Anderson.
But Carolina, which is going for a sweep of the AFC East, has been stingy on opposing offenses, allowing only 278 yards per game, which is second in the league to the Jaguars.
Surprisingly, the Panthers are minus-7 in turnover margin, due in large part to Newton's 11 interceptions. The Jets are plus-1 in turnover differential and have 10 interceptions. They forced three fumbles in their last home game, a 34-21 Thursday-night win over the Bills on Nov. 2.
One area of concern for New York is its 23rd-ranked rush defense, as Carolina has rushed for 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history, led by Newton (181 yards), Jonathan Stewart (131) and rookie Christian McCaffrey (89).
Still, the Jets believe they are up to the task, having held three of their last four opponents to less than 90 rushing yards.
"I feel like we can beat any team we line up against. It's just a matter of what New York Jets team shows up," said outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins. "If we want to keep winning, we have to find a way to shine in all three phases. Otherwise, chances are slim for us."
And, consequently, much better for the Panthers.