The Charlotte Observer writer answers questions about Buffalo's week two opponent, the Carolina Panthers

Many wondered if the Buffalo Bills would've selected Cam Newton in the 2011 NFL Draft if he had fallen to their No. 3 overall pick. It didn't matter, as the Carolina Panthers took the Auburn University star at No. 1 and Buffalo took defensive lineman Marcell Dareus.

Two years later, the Bills drafted EJ Manuel in the first round and he'll be under center when Buffalo faces Newton for the first time. Some analysts compare the two quarterbacks because of their size and strong arms.

The Daily Messenger asked Joe Person, the Panthers beat writer for The Charlotte Observer, some questions about this year's team. He is entering his fourth season covering Carolina.

Q: How has Cam Newton improved since coming into the league?

A: He's a more complete player — Newton's become more adept at reading coverages and making pre-snap adjustments. He's also not forcing throws into coverage like he did as a rookie, and as a result his interceptions are down significantly.

Q: The Panthers struggled against the pass last year. Is the defense improved?

A: The front seven's improved, but the secondary is still a question mark. The Panthers used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who — along with former Bills DT Dwan Edwards — give the Panthers a solid interior rotation. Carolina already had strong pass rushers in DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, and a tackling machine in middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. But as Russell Wilson demonstrated last week, there are still holes in the secondary.

Q: How would you assess Ron Rivera's coaching tenure?

A: Everyone in the organization — and really throughout the league — respects Rivera, who is a man of dignity and humility. But at some point Rivera has to start winning the close games. The Panthers are 2-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less since Rivera arrived before the 2011 season, and those losses have kept the Panthers from becoming a possible playoff team. With a new general manager in place, Rivera probably needs a winning record and/or a playoff berth to keep his job.

Q: Who is a player Bills fans haven't heard of, but will make an impact on Sunday?

A: Josh Thomas, although Thomas went to the University of Buffalo so your readers might be familiar with him. Thomas is an aggressive corner who's strong against the run. But he was beaten a couple of times last week against the Seahawks, including on Wilson's game-winning, 43-yard touchdown pass. It looks like Thomas will remain the starter, and he figures to make a big impact — positively or negatively — on Sunday's outcome.

Q: The Panthers will come away with a win on Sunday if …

A: Cam Newton gets time to throw and first-year offensive coordinator Mike Shula takes a couple of chances deep. Newton has a big arm and nice touch on his deep throws, but Shula didn't give him a chance to show it against Seattle. With the Bills' secondary a little banged-up, the Panthers need to wipe the dust off their vertical passing game.

Follow Joe Person on Twitter at josephperson and Dan Goldman at MPN_DanGoldman.