As messed up as the Cleveland Browns have looked at times, the Carolina Panthers arrive with perhaps more pressing problems.

The teams face off Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, with the Browns looking like the team in a better mindset.

Meanwhile, the Panthers (6-6) have tumbled out of the projected NFC playoff mix with four consecutive losses and the week began with the firing of two defensive assistant coaches.

"We put ourselves in this situation and we have to get ourselves out," Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said.

That's a theme that has reverberated around the Panthers.

"The last few games we have played have come down to the last opportunities we have had, whether it be on offense or defense," coach Ron Rivera said. "You just have to make a play. That is unfortunately something we haven't been able to do right now."

Rivera has made changes, taking over defensive play-calling duties. Plus, the team fired defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary / cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura at the start of the week.

"Ultimately, I'm charged with putting the team in the best position to succeed, and I felt these moves were necessary in order to do that," Rivera said.

Defensive coordinator Eric Washington will oversee the front seven.

Cleveland (4-7-1) is coming off a 29-13 loss at Houston after winning two games in a row. So the Browns have had a considerable better stretch than Carolina.

Even with last week's setback, Browns coach Gregg Williams describes a good vibe around the team.

"The guys have been very determined, very focused," Williams said. "We have to put ourselves in better position to win. ... But the guys never flinched."

Newton threw four interceptions at Tampa Bay, marking his most pick-offs thrown since his rookie season, and sat out Wednesday's practice to rest a weary throwing shoulder.

"I can't allow that and accept that from myself," Newton said. "I just have to do a better job with my accuracy and decision-making."

The Browns also gave up four turnovers in the loss at Houston.

"The value of protecting the ball you can't over-value that," Williams said. "We have to protect the ball."

Like Newton, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is a past Heisman Trophy winner. A year ago this weekend, he received the honor as a player for Oklahoma.

He's the first Browns quarterback to throw for at least one touchdown in nine straight starts since Bernie Kosar in 1987. He set the team's rookie record for passing yards in last week's game.

"Our offense has been outstanding in the last month," Williams said.

Mayfield, who wasn't intercepted three times at Houston, hasn't been sacked in the past three games.

"I think his mobility is excellent," Williams said. "There's just a feel for playing the position and extending the play."

Williams said he doesn't think the three pickoffs thrown by Mayfield will impact him going into the Carolina game.

Both teams have floundered in key defensive situations. That's among the reasons at the root of Rivera's frustrations.

The Browns have similar concerns.

"We've got to execute (on third-down defense)," Williams said.

The Panthers are 1-5 on the road. They've been close a few times on the road, but slow starts have been the norm.

"You've got to make plays earlier in the game so that it doesn't come down to that (at the end)," linebacker Luke Kuechly said.

Carolina put tight end Greg Olsen on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his injury-riddled season.

The Browns might be without cornerback Denzel Ward, who has been in concussion protocol and was held out of practice Wednesday.

The Panthers remain in range of the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints because those teams matchup twice across the last three weeks of the season.

Carolina has won four of five all-time meetings with the Browns, including the most-recent matchup in 2014 at home. Cleveland's lone victory came 24-23 in 2010 at home.

--Field Level Media

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