NFL QB Hot Sheet: Cam Newton faces big challenge vs. Ravens

Every Wednesday during the NFL season, USA TODAY Sports will assess everyone's favorite topic: quarterbacks. Who's hot? Who's not? Who has the most exciting matchups?

Here's this week's QB Hot Sheet:

Five to watch this weekend

1. Cam Newton, Panthers: A dismal first half gave way to an efficient second in a comeback win against the Eagles, but Newton now must face the a defense that ranks first in sacks (27) and scoring (14.4 points a game) in the Ravens. This might be a contest where Newton’s running ability opens up the passing game.

2. Drew Brees, Saints: The revenge factor for the Minnesota Miracle is overrated here, but Brees still hasn’t given up one turnover all season long. The Vikings, however, are tied for ninth with 12 takeaways. New Orleans also can't afford to falter, as Carolina is right behind it in the NFC South (4-2).

3. Blake Bortles, Jaguars: His benching in a loss against the Texans may signal that he's running out of chances in Jacksonville. Bortles will start, but if he again turns the ball over and misfires on passes against an Eagles defense that ranks sixth in scoring (19.7 points allowed per game), the Jaguars might need seriously consider turning things over to Cody Kessler.

4. Matthew Stafford, Lions: They’ve won three of their last four, and Stafford has quietly posted an 8:1 TD-to-interception ratio and completed 72.8 percent of his throws over that span. The Seahawks are tied for sixth in interceptions (nine), but a resurgent rushing game could help Stafford remain efficient.

5. Deshaun Watson, Texans: Playing Thursday against the Dolphins and dealing with a bruised lung and injured ribs injury that forced him to take a 12-hour bus ride to Jacksonville, Watson will have to get better protection. Houston has allowed 26 sacks (ranking 30th) and 70 QB hits (32nd) – 16 more than the next closest team.

Three trending up

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs: Four more touchdowns in a beatdown of the Bengals moved him past Kurt Warner for the record of most touchdown passes (22) through a player’s first eight career games in the Super Bowl era. Nine different Chiefs have caught scores, and Kansas City’s offense appears close to unstoppable.

2. Philip Rivers, Chargers: Even without running back Melvin Gordon (second on the team with 30 catches), Rivers remained accurate in carving up the Raiders in London. His ranking second in average yards per attempt (9.1) shows that he’s hitting targets in stride and calculating the right time to take shots down the field.

3. Andrew Luck, Colts: Four touchdowns on only 17 completions (and 23 attempts) in a blowout against the Bills reinforced that Luck is among the NFL’s best passers again when given time. He has the league’s second-most TD passes with 20, 15 of which have come in the last four games.

Three trending down

1. Bortles: Two touchdowns with eight turnovers and a 54.5 percent completion rate over his last three games isn’t the mark of a starting quarterback.

2. Josh Rosen, Cardinals: With two pick-sixes in the first quarter and five turnovers, along with a sprained toe, Rosen's rough start to his rookie campaign only got worse with a blowout loss against the Broncos. Poor O-line play and a depleted roster, however, show that the struggles are not all his fault.

3. Sam Darnold, Jets: Season worsts in passer rating (34.4) and completion rate (40.5 %) in a blowout loss to the Vikings continued the trend of inconsistency for the rookie. Though two of his three interceptions should be pinned on his receivers, Darnold will have to demontrate confident and decisive decision-making inside the pocket.

Season rankings

1. Mahomes (last week: 1): It’s amazing to see Mahomes feature a different skill position player almost weekly. Nearing the midpoint of the season, he’s the league MVP.

2. Brees (2): Leading a fourth-quarter comeback against the league’s top defense further highlighted his remarkable 2018 campaign.

3. Rivers (3): He ranks second in the league in QB rating (117.8) and has the Chargers looking like a threat in the AFC at 5-2.

4. Luck (NR): It's crazy to think he’s climbed back this far from his shoulder injury given his football future was in question just one year ago. Perhaps the best asset in Luck’s repertoire is an increased focus on efficiency.

5. Aaron Rodgers (4), Packers: With Green Bay on bye, he slides down one spot.

Dropped: Matt Ryan (5)

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

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