By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It’s certainly possible that Cam Newton is no longer good enough to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. His body of work over his last 20 starts — a stretch where he’s gone 7-13 with 11 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions — would strongly suggest that is indeed the case.

OK. But!

It’s also possible to simply feel bad for a guy who appears to be the victim of unfortunate circumstances as much as declining abilities over the past three years.

That’s one way to feel after Panthers head coach Matt Rhule (a budding Jay-Z in his own mind) announced that Sam Darnold will start at QB for the Panthers on Sunday. Sam Darnold. Sammy D. The infamous ghost-seer, the man deemed not good enough by the New York Jets, the fella with the man paying homage to the Slurpee with his 7-11 TD-to-INT ratio this year, the guy with 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions and a crisp 6-15 record over the past two years. That’s the man tapped to be the starter over Cam Newton this week.

And the sad part is … it’s not the wrong decision.

Since rejoining the Panthers, Cam Newton’s redemption story has turned into a Greek tragedy. He was electric when stepping in for some plays in his first game back, throwing a touchdown and rushing for another in a blowout win over the Cardinals. He announced to the world that he was back. It was pretty cool.

That meme has since taken a turn. Newton became the starter. The Panthers are 0-5 since that happened. Newton’s thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s been very good as a runnner — 211 yards and four touchdowns on 43 carries — but his 61.4 passer rating and 54.1 percent completion rate has been a killer for the Panthers.

And so, for the third time since the winter of 2020, Newton’s lost his job … likely for the final time.

That’s how things go in the NFL. Careers don’t last forever. Greatness is hard to sustain. In that sense, Newton is no different from hundreds of quarterbacks who have come before him. Such is life.

It’s still OK to feel some sympathy for a guy who’s had a rough run for three years. Newton put together a very good 2018 season at the age of 29 (67.9 percent completion rate, 24 TDs, 13 INTs, 94.2 passer rating, plus 488 rushing yards and four TDs on the ground), but his year was cut short by two games due to a shoulder injury. Looking to bounce back in 2019, that season was essentially ended before it could begin. He suffered a foot injury in the preseason vs. New England and ended up playing just two games in 2019. Then the team that took him No. 1 overall and made him the face of the franchise unceremoniously dumped him in late March of 2020.

You may or may not recall, but late March of 2020 was not a great time to be a free agent. Or a human, really, for that matter. With the world in a full-blown pandemic, it wasn’t high time to be an NFL free agent. He eventually got a job from the desperate Patriots, who realized that a Jarrett Stidham-Brian Hoyer duo wasn’t the best route in the wake of losing Tom Brady. But he joined the team late, there was no preseason, his skill position players were named Moe, Larry and Curly. It wasn’t great, and neither was he — as a passer at least.

Newton showed he was as effective as ever as a runner, and he stayed healthy all year, despite rushing 137 times for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Patriots spent the offseason loading up on some talented pass catchers … but also drafted Newton’s replacement.

From there, you know the rest. He was dumped by the Pats at the end of the preseason. He did a Funky Friday video with his dad. He remained without a job for weeks. Which turned into months. Finally he got picked up by his former team in Carolina (and landed quite the payday), and it started so sweet.

Now, it’s just kind of sad.

“Well it goes without saying, the humanistic side of this football game — football’s been good to me,” Newton said Sunday after losing what will likely be his final game in Carolina. “I was able to walk away unscathed. But, I don’t want to sound like I’m retiring. But I’ve had some great memories. … And when I look at my situation, was it ideal? I’m talking big picture, I’m talking over the years, not today. Was it ideal? No. But I think the thing that I can pride myself on is being able to say I never blinked, I never bitched, I never complained, I never pointed the finger, I never wanted it any easier than what it is.”

Newton added: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m just so let down because the city of Charlotte has been good to me. When I first got here, there was a lot of uncertainty how long I would be here. And this second go-round is just so unfortunate, because you put so much work into trying to find ways to win, building relationships along the way. When it doesn’t happen, it’s … like right now, you feel empty. You feel like, damn, are you good enough?”

Cam Newton salutes the crowd in Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Some people won’t feel bad. They’ll look at the hats and the suits, or even the “I’m Back!” celebration, and say that this serving of humble pie is well-deserved. Hard to feel bad for a millionaire!

Fair enough. Still, the amount of work that went into coming back from injuries, the maturity to never point fingers in New England when he would have been justified to do so, the potential for a nice reunion story in Carolina … it’s all kind of come crashing down in a hurry.

And that’s just a bummer.

(I recognize that, having written that sentiment in December 2020 and again in September 2021 and now here again just days before the start of 2022, I may be the lone writer on this beat. I am willing to accept that reality. Geniuses often stand alone.)

Now it’s time for picks.

(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)

CHICAGO (-6) over New York Giants
The rare game where nobody — including the fan bases of both teams — really wants to watch. How could anyone want to watch? HOW?!

Kansas City (-5) over CINCINNATI
Everyone’s on the Bengals right now. Isn’t that the perfect recipe for the Chiefs to remind everyone they’re still the Chiefs, and that the Bengals are still the Bengals?

I’m tempted to take Cincy and the points after Joe Burrow’s 10,000-yard performance last week. I’m only human. But the Bengals are only 4-4 as favorites this year. They were two-point favorites at home vs. Cleveland and lost by 25 points. They were 2.5-point favorites at home vs. the Chargers and lost by 19 points. Beware a bungling, which is always a threat to pop up at a moment’s notice in Cincinnati.

BUFFALO (-14.5) over Atlanta
It’s a frightening line, no doubt, as the Bills may be in a bit of a letdown spot here after essentially winning the AFC East last weekend with a significant victory in Foxboro. They’re going to win this game, but might they lack the focus necessary to win by more than two touchdowns? That’s a concern.

At the same time, when the Falcons lose, they generally looooooose. The Falcons have lost by an average of 24 points in their last four losses. Overall, in their eight losses, they’ve lost by an average of 19.4 points. They’ve lost by 23 or more points more times than they’ve lost by 13 or fewer points. In Atlanta, IT’S NOT WORTH LOSING IF YOU CAN’T LOSE BIG!

Bottom line: If you think the Bills are winning this game, you can trust them to cover the rather large spread. (Having an indoor team from Atlanta head to Buffalo in January also helps matters.)

Los Angeles Rams (-3) over BALTIMORE
The Ravens are cooked.

I now will share two thoughts on the Ravens based on the practice footage of Lamar Jackson from Wednesday.

First thought: The Ravens’ practice field grass is also cooked, just like the Ravens themselves.

Second thought: Get Lamar off the field. The man is moving like an octogenarian. Perhaps even a nonagenarian. Sending him out there against any NFL defense — let alone one with some legitimately terrifying pass rushers — in that condition would be negligent.

TENNESSEE (-3.5) over Miami
People always sound like such goofballs when they throw the words “FRAUDULENT” or “FRAUDS” at NFL teams. These guys are FRAUDS! Like, OK, man. Calm down. You’re not cool.

HAVING SAID THAT … I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by Miami’s seven-game winning streak. They just beat Ian Book in New Orleans. They beat the Jets twice (both one-score games, too). They beat the Panthers, Ravens, Texans and Giants at home.

Winning seven games in a row is obviously tough to do. But … meh. They’re going to have a tough time against an actual NFL team here this weekend.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6.5) over Las Vegas
Carson Wentz’s potential absence doesn’t shake me as much as it should. That’s likely because I saw the Colts beat the Patriots by 10 points two weeks ago in a game where Wentz completed five passes. Wentz also threw a brutal interception in that game, when the Colts needed him to do literally anything other than throw an interception. And yet, their defense and running game still drove the team to a 10-point victory against a team that rode in well-rested off a bye, and on a seven-game winning streak.

Can’t Sam Ehlinger complete five passes and throw one terrible pick against a team that’s worse than the Patriots? I say yes.

NEW ENGLAND (-15.5) over Jacksonville
The Patriots have a lot of flaws. That is probably frustrating for them. Fortunately, they’ll get to take those frustrations out on the punching bag that is known as the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I can’t stop watching this play from last week. Forget the embarrassing lack of tackling; look how many Jags defenders just casually jog around the field. Hysterical.

If the Patriots don’t win this game by 25 points, they might as well close up shop for the season.

WASHINGTON (+3.5) over Philadelphia
I hate picking NFC East games this year. I hate it. I’d estimate I have a .000 winning percentage on those games. They are killing me. But with the Eagles beating Washington in Week 15, I’ll go with the old reliable cliche that it’s hard to beat a divisional opponent twice in three weeks. Is it scientific? It is not. But it’s all I’ve got.

Tampa Bay (-13.5) over NEW YORK JETS
I am actually concerned about this one because I remember Tom Brady telling Jim Gray or somebody earlier this year that he only had one trip left to cold weather, and that was the Week 10 trip to Washington. Brady was explaining how he’s soft now and how he’s afraid of the cold after thriving in it for so long with New England. And whenever an athlete faces a challenge they weren’t expecting, the results can be ugly.

Will Cold, Old Tom struggle in this one? MAYBE. But also PROBABLY NOT. Because the New York Jets are bad at football.

(The forecast actually seems to indicate it’ll be in the high 50s on Sunday. The sun always shines on Tom Brady, doesn’t it?)

SAN FRANCISCO (-12.5) over Houston
America, what is your problem? I mean, the country has not made enough of a big deal about John Lynch liking a tweet that denigrated Jimmy Garoppolo, only to offer up the single worst explanation ever:

Folks! Folks that is hilarious. If Bill Belichick did this, it would make the national news with Tom Brokaw. (He’s still hosting, right? Dan Rather? Peter Jennings? OK, good.)

Anyways. The Niners’ brass clearly doesn’t love Jimmy. They’re clearly dedicated to Trey Lance. (Three first-rounders and a third-rounder for Trey Lance! Another situation America isn’t giving the proper attention.) So it’s kind of an ideal spot for Kyle Shanahan to unload everything he has planned for Lance against one of the league’s softest defenses.

Just make sure you don’t get roped into thinking Trey Lance is a star after he and the Niners wallop the Texans.

Denver (+6.5) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Are the Chargers OK? I mean that. Are they OK?

It’s not a great look for Brandon Staley that he went out and basically said “everyone who doesn’t get what I’m doing just doesn’t understand football,” only to have his team get ROLLED by the HOUSTON TEXANS a week later. Perhaps he is learning that believing in one’s own genius is not a recipe for success in the NFL.

His Chargers also got smoked by these Broncos in late November. So while I anticipate a Chargers bounceback win, I don’t think it’ll come easy. (As a rule of thumb, I take an opponent getting 6.5 against a team that just lost by DOUBLE DIGITS to the HOUSTON TEXANS.)

Detroit (+7) over SEATTLE
Taking Detroit this year has been a true joy. It’s fun. If you haven’t done it yet, I suggest giving it a whirl.

They’re also 10-5 against the spread. So it’s fun and smart. The Seahawks are 7-8 against the spread.

UPDATE: SEATTLE (-7) over Detroit
Sorry but I can’t take Tim Boyle in Seattle.

Sad.

Too bad.

NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Carolina
I’m willing to let the Saints slide for looking checked out against Miami last week. They lost belief fairly early in their rookie QB. A pick-six on his opening drive will have that effect.

I’m not comfortable with either team here, but when you’ve got Alvin Kamara against a weak rushing defense, it helps you decide which way to lean.

Arizona (+5.5) over DALLAS
The Cardinals have to get off the mat at some point. Right?

RIGHT?!

It would be funny if they don’t. But they have to. They’ve got to.

Don’t they?

GREEN BAY (-6.5) over Minnesota
Just 6.5. Feels low.

Moving along.

Cleveland (-3) over PITTSBURGH
Two of the least tough teams in the league, both facing a must-win. The Steelers have the added pressure of this likely being Ben Roethlisberger’s final home game in Pittsburgh before he waddles off into the sunset. I think that actually works against them, because — as stated — they’re not a tough team.

Speaking of toughness, I’m coming off my first losing week of the entire season. It’s time to bounce back. It’s time to finish strong. (Or the law of averages has caught up to me and I’m in trouble. One of these things must be true.)

Last week: 7-9
Season: 130-93-1

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.