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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 12:58 PM

One of the trickiest challenges for NFL handicappers this year will be making proper assessments about potent second year quarterback Cam Newton. Newton takes the field for the first time in 2012 TONIGHT when the Carolina Panthers host the Houston Texans in a Preseason game that will be televised nationally by the NFL Network.

Last year Newton took the league by storm with an opening month that will never be forgotten.

422 passing yards in the season opener at Arizona

432 passing yards the next week against Green Bay

A win in a torrential downpour vs. Jacksonville where nobody had good stats

374 passing yards on the road at Chicago

Passing for over 300 yards is a big game…and passing for over 350 yards is a monster. Newton had three monsters in his first three games in real football conditions! Fantasy players went crazy. All the highlight shows went wild with talk of the game’s newest superstar. Oddsmakers adjusted on the fly as Carolina kept covering most of their early spreads. Longtime sportsbook veterans had seem high quality rookies before….but never something quite like this.

The buzz stayed around Newton all year because he always had fantastic “season to date” stats even though his production slowed way down. He wouldn’t throw for 400 yards again, or even 300 yards again. He had seven games where he threw for less than 225 yards. Instead of suffering through growing pains at first then exploding once he got the hang of things. He exploded early but then suffered the growing pains when defenses finally respected him and adjusted to his tendencies.

The decline was partly hidden by a soft second half schedule. Carolina beat Tampa Bay twice after the Bucs had quit on their head coach and blown off the season. Carolina beat Indianapolis when the Colts were losing every week to lock in the #1 draft pick. That was three GIFTS in the second half of the season. When not accepting those gifts:

Carolina (-3.5) lost to Tennessee 30-3 (Newton passer rating 61.7)

Carolina (+7) lost to Detroit 49-35 (Newton passer rating 50.2)

Carolina (+3) lost to Atlanta 31-23 (Newton passer rating 67.9)

Carolina (+4.5) beat shorthanded Houston 28-13

Carolina (+7) lost to New Orleans 45-17 (Newton passer rating 75.1)

That’s 1-4 straight up against teams who would finish with winning records. And, the win came against Houston with T.J. Yates as the opposing quarterback. Not much for the media, fantasy players, or even handicappers to buzz about there unless they were fading Newton vs. quality.  

Which Cam Newton will we see this year? Will he adjust now that the league has adjusted to him? All in all, he still seems right on track for a solid career. Carolina was better than the bad teams in 2011, and could put a scare into most good teams they faced even if they were destined to fade at the end. You start from 6-10 with a young team…and that puts you in the neighborhood of .500 and maybe Wildcard contention if key players mature.

All THAT is why you should be paying close attention to Newton in Saturday Night’s TV game with Houston. If you get a read on him, and how he’s adjusting to defenses, then you will be in position to best Vegas expectations when the regular season begins. Oddsmakers underestimated him at first, but then overestimated him when he was facing decent opposition down the stretch. That can happen with electric talents (as we saw with Kordell Stewart and Vince Young, two quarterbacks with similar styles to what Newton brought to the table right out of college).

If you’d like to make some money Saturday Night in football, here are the highlights available this afternoon here at VegasSportsMasters:

*Kelso Sturgeon started off the Preseason with a 25-Unit winner on New Orleans in the Hall of Fame game last week. He has another 25-Unit gem going tonight. Pay just $25 for that blockbuster and a bonus play in the other game that you can use in parlays. Oh, you still have time to take advantage of the early-bird rate for the full season. Pay just $275 and start your program with tonight’s two must-have selections.

*Coach Ron Meyer has a Preseason “Cinch” play available for just $15. That’s the top football play of Saturday Night…and it comes with bonus baseball too. Only one man in the handicapping industry has ever coached an NFL Preseason game! That’s a great reason to sign up for Coach Meyer’s remaining Preseason package for just $69.

*High roller Tony Salinas has the ideal slate for ACTION LOVERS on Saturday. He has releases in both football games, and then three strong plays on baseball posted on his $20 report. That’s just four bucks a play! Tony only releases the games he bets the biggest himself. If you’re not a high roller now, you’ll be one soon if you follow the living legend. Pay only $69 for the rest of NFL Preseason which includes tonight’s games.

Big play announcements are posted daily on the VSM home page. Go to the “Buy Picks” page for complete details on what’s available from each of our world famous superstars. Hot handicappers are always waiting to hear from you!

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