Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield must play the game and not the occasion when he comes up against his former team in Week 1.
Baker Mayfield wouldn’t be human if emotions weren’t running high this week. The quarterback’s competitive debut for the Carolina Panthers sees him line up against old teammates and coaches when the Cleveland Browns come to town in Week 1 at Bank of America Stadium, after all.
The NFL schedule-makers got a stroke of good fortune. One they might have anticipated given the speculation linking Mayfield and Carolina throughout another eventful offseason for the franchise.
National media analysts are dubbing this the Mayfield revenge game. The headlines write themselves, even if Mayfield is doing all he can to focus fully on football and not much else in the lead-up to such an important contest.
The circus caused by analytics expert Cynthia Frelund aside, Mayfield has accomplished this feat. Even if the encounter probably means more to the Oklahoma product than anything else on the schedule despite an unwillingness to admit it publicly.
With no Deshaun Watson under center, the Panthers are narrow favorites. But if Mayfield cannot turn his nervous energy into some composed production when it counts, the landscape will change in a hurry.
Baker Mayfield must keep a cool head in pursuit of victory in Week 1
Playing the game and not the occasion sounds easy, in theory.
However, Mayfield felt slighted by the way he was treated by the Browns this offseason, which stemmed from the trade and accusations about his suspect character on his way out of the door.
Mayfield has all the motivation needed to hit the ground running. And the growing sense of belief within the fanbase means they’ll be behind the Heisman Trophy winner every step of the way.
Even without Watson, this contest is finely balanced and could go either way. There is familiarity between Mayfield and the Browns, but just how much this impacts things will play a leading role in the eventual outcome.
Mayfield might make a mistake or two given the obvious adrenaline. Things will be fast and frantic right out of the gate, so the signal-caller needs to keep his head while all around him might be losing theirs.
If he can do this, the Panthers have a big chance.
Something that could set the tone for a positive campaign.
Anticipation is growing with every passing hour. It’s probably a relief for Mayfield to enter a game-day week given all the rumors, uncertainty, and speculation surrounding his future this offseason, but things worked out pretty well for the player given how well he’s settled in Carolina.
Thankfully, the time for talk is almost over.
Time for Mayfield and the Panthers to strap it up and show the NFL what they could potentially achieve in 2022.
The Browns won’t want Mayfield getting one over on them. That’s not a good look for a team that opted to move forward with Watson despite the murky situation regarding multiple sexual misconduct allegations that eventually resulted in an 11-game suspension.
There are so many fascinating factors to this. But at the end of the day, all Mayfield and the Panthers should care about is winning.
Lord knows there hasn’t been a lot of that to celebrate in Carolina lately.