CHARLOTTE -- Here's a scary thought: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is off to a better start than he was after two games a year ago when he won the NFL MVP award.
One could argue that Newton is off to the best start of his NFL career.
The first pick of the 2011 draft has thrown for 547 yards and five touchdowns to only two interceptions for a passer rating of 92.7. He also has rushed 17 times for 91 yards and a touchdown.
After two games a year ago, Newton had 370 yards passing and three touchdowns to two interceptions for a passer rating of 76.3. He had 24 rushes for 111 yards and one touchdown.
Newton didn't really take off statistically last season until the 10th game when he threw five touchdown passes against Washington. He had 18 touchdown passes over a five-game span to launch himself into the MVP talk with New England's Tom Brady and Arizona's Carson Palmer.
He finished with a career-best 35 touchdown passes and 10 rushing, earning 48 of a possible 50 votes for the MVP award.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula didn't hesitate to say Newton was playing better now than a year ago.
"He just looks a little more comfortable back there,'' he said. "He looks a little more accurate, his decisions are a little quicker.''
Only twice in his career has Newton had more yards passing after two games. He had 854 as a rookie when he went nuts with 422 yards passing in his debut and 432 the following week.
But he had only three touchdowns and four interceptions, so you'd have to rate this start as better.
Newton began his second season with 556 yards passing in the first two games for a rating of 106.5. But he had only two touchdowns to one interception.
So you'd have to rate this start better than that one.
"Cam is throwing the deep balls so well now with good touch,'' Shula said. "And you've got big targets out there for him now.''
Yes, Newton also has more talent around him than at any point in his career. The return of 2014 first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin after missing last season with a knee injury has been huge.
Benjamin has 13 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns came on Sunday against the 49ers.
"Makes my life extremely easy,'' Newton said of the 6-foot-5 Benjamin. "Helps me out a lot. Extremely special.''
Said Benjamin: "I know when Cam's sitting the pocket, he's thinking, 'Man, I can go anywhere.' That's good.''
Newton won't throw four touchdown passes every week as he did against the 49ers, but he is on pace for 40 passing touchdowns and eight rushing.
Those kind of numbers likely would make him the first repeat MVP since Peyton Manning in 2008 and 2009.
But it's early and the competition is stiff, and Brady hasn't even played a down.
Here's an early look at a few others that would be in the MVP race:
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees: He has five touchdown passes and no interceptions for a passer rating of 109.9.
Oakland quarterback Derek Carr: He has four touchdown passes and no interceptions and a passer rating of 107.4.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan: He has five touchdown passes and one interception for a passer rating of 121.4.
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer: He has five touchdown passes and no interceptions for a passer rating of 113.5.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: He has six touchdown passes and three interceptions for a passer rating of 95.5.
Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs: He has 16 catches for a league-best 285 yards and a touchdown for an undefeated Vikings team that plays at Carolina this Sunday.