Sam Darnold earned a promotion to starting quarterback this Sunday when the Carolina Panthers host the Denver Broncos in Week 12.
Interim head coach Steve Wilks benched Mayfield after the Panthers’ offense generated just three points in a 13-3 loss against the Baltimore Ravens in Wek 11.
The Panthers (3-8) are +2 home dogs in a non-conference game against the Broncos (3-7) in Week 12. The Panthers are 3-3 at home in Charlotte this season, meanwhile, the Broncos are 1-4 on the road in 2022.
The Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start. Wilks is 2-4 since he took over as the head coach in Week 6. Prior to the trade deadline, the Panthers traded All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers, and they shipped wide receiver Robbie Anderson to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Panthers are on the verge of getting eliminated from the playoff hunt. FiveThirtyEight projects the Panthers have a 4% chance to win an NFC Wild Card spot. The Houston Texans, at 1-8-1, is the only team in the NFL that has a worst record than the three-win Panthers.
If the season were to end today, the Panthers would secure the #2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Baker Mayfield Benched
It’s been a difficult year for Baker Mayfield. The former #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft never lived up to expectations with the Cleveland Browns. They dumped him for a late-round draft pick in the offseason, but he had the opportunity to turn around his career in Carolina.
In the preseason, Mayfield and Darnold competed for the starting quarterback position. The competition ended when Darnold suffered a gnarly ankle injury in the preseason. With Darnold on the IR, Mayfield won the starting job by default.
Mayfield’s comeback never came to fruition with the Panthers. He struggled in the first five games of the season before a high ankle injury sidelined him for a couple of weeks.
Mayfield returned to the starting role last week, but the Ravens beat the Panthers 13-3. Mayfield threw 21-for-33 for 196 yards and zero touchdowns. He tossed two interceptions in the loss, and the Ravens sacked him four times.
Mayfield saw his record as a starter this season slip to 1-5. In seven games this season, including one appearance off the bench, Mayfield completed 57.8% of his passes for 1,313 yards, six touchdowns, and six interceptions. Mayfield has a QBR rating of 17.8 and ranked #31 in the NFL according to ESPN.
The low-scoring Panthers average only 18.8 points per game this season. In the six games that Mayfield started, the Panthers scored 16 points per game.
Panthers Shuffle the QB Deck
Wilks decided it was time to give a healthy Darnold a shot and his first start this season. Darnold returned to the Panthers a couple of weeks ago after missing two months with an ankle injury. He was listed as the backup QB behind Mayfield in Week 11 against the Ravens.
You learn a lot just by watching, and learning from other guys,” said Darnold. “There’s a lot you can learn when you don’t have the stress of being a starter. But at the end of the day, I want to be out there.”
Darnold becomes the third quarterback to start a game for the Panthers this season. During the 2021 season, Darnold went 4-7 as a starter with the Panthers.
PJ Walker replaced an injured Mayfield as the starter in Week 6. Walker went 2-3 as the starter over the next five games, and the Panthers offense looked much better. They averaged 22.2 points per game, or 6.2 more points per game than Mayfield.
Walker suffered a high ankle sprain in a victory against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10. He’s expected to miss at least four games. Mayfield returned to the starting line up in Week 11, but his second stint as the starter was short-lived and he lasted only one game.
Darnold began his career with the New York Jets, who selected the USC quarterback with the third-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Darnold had the misfortune of playing under Jets head coach Adam Gase. In three painful seasons with the Jets, Darnold went 13-25 as the starter. He threw 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. After the Jets selected Zach Wilson in the 2021 NFL Draft, they traded Darnold to the Panthers.
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