No. 1 overall picks Newton, Bradford collide

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has 28 million reasons to be envious of Sam Bradford. He insists that isn’t the case.

When Bradford was selected first overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2010, he received the biggest contract ever handed out to a rookie — a deal that included $50 million in guaranteed money.

One year later, after leading Auburn to a national championship, Newton was selected No. 1 overall by the Panthers, but his contract was significantly less.

The new collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners changed everything, vastly reducing the payout to first-round draft picks.

Newton received $22 million guaranteed, hardly a pittance, but not comparable to Bradford’s windfall.

“I don’t really know what to say,” Bradford said sheepishly. “I didn’t have anything to do with the system that was in place before me and when I came into the league, or the change that was made the year after.”

He added that “life is about timing.”

Newton can attest to that.

Still, he said it doesn’t bother him that Bradford signed for more than twice what he received from Carolina.

“Absolutely not,” Newton said. “If I’m worried about things like that, I feel like that would be a distraction. My main focus is trying to find a way to be 3-3 at the end of Sunday, no matter the contracts being a year later. My main focus is on being prepared.”

Both QBs have struggled to win in the NFL since inheriting bad teams: Bradford is 18-29-1 as a starter, Newton 15-22. Neither quarterback has led his team to a winning record in a season.

But both have shown flashes of greatness.

Newton and Bradford are coming off career-best games last week in terms of QB rating — on the road, nonetheless — and will look to carry that momentum into Sunday when they meet in Charlotte.

Bradford attempted only 16 passes against the Texans, but completed 12 for 117 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 134.6 as the Rams (3-3) routed the Texans 38-13. The Panthers (2-3) hammered the Vikings 35-10 as Newton threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another while posting a near-perfect rating of 143.4.

“Now we have to show that we can play at a consistent level,” Newton said.

The same could be said for Bradford and the Rams.

Five things to know about the Rams-Panthers game:

JEKYLL AND HYDE: When the Panthers are good, they’re really good. They beat the Vikings and Giants by a combined 73-13. However, their offense has managed just two TDs total in their losses to Seattle, Buffalo and Arizona. Chances are the Panthers could have success against a Rams defense allowing 388.7 yards and 25.6 points per game this season.

MISTAKE FREE: The Panthers have eight interceptions this season, including three by safety Mike Mitchell. But they could have a tough time forcing Bradford into mistakes. Bradford is off to the best start of his career with 13 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. His career interception percentage of 2.1 is the lowest of any quarterback in franchise history.

PERFECT KICKERS: If this game comes down to a field goal attempt, but teams have to feel good about their kickers. Greg Zuerlein is 9 for 9 and has converted all 14 extra points. Carolina’s Graham Gano is also perfect, converting all six field goals and 13 extra points.

OPPORTUNISTIC OFFENSES: Both teams have done well punching the ball into the end zone when they reach the red zone. The Rams rank third in the league in red zone conversions, having scored touchdowns on 12 of 18 trips. The Panthers aren’t far behind. They rank fifth, going 9 of 14.

RUNNING WOES: The Rams may have to rely on Bradford and the passing game Sunday. St. Louis’ running game ranks 28th, averaging a woeful 71.8 yards per game on the ground and 3.2 yards per carry. Carolina’s defense ranks fourth in run defense and last Sunday held Adrian Peterson to 62 yards, half coming on one run. The Rams have yet to score a touchdown rushing this season.

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AP Sports Writer RB Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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