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The Panthers have a tough road ahead

The Panthers are sitting in 3rd place in the NFC South and are at 2-3 after the first six weeks of the season. Needless to say they have a comfortable lead on the hapless Buccaneers, so there isn’t much concern that the Panthers will wind up in the basement of one of the most competitive divisions in the league.

But, it is troublesome that a 12-4 team from last season is still under .500 and below 2 other teams in a division that has never seen back-to back champions (heck, until last year the team that won the division in one year finished dead last the very next season, which just shows how competitive the NFC South really is).

Now, I’m not saying that it’s impossible for the Panthers to come back and win the division. In 1992, the San Diego Chargers started the season 0-4 and won 11 of their next 12 games to win the AFC West (and subsequently blew it in the playoffs like they seem to do every time, but that’s another story for another day).

It must also be noted that the 1992 Chargers are a major exception to the rule. This hardly ever happens in the NFL, so the Panthers starting out 0-3 certainly doesn’t help their cause from a historical standpoint.

Even though it’s not impossible for the Panthers to come back and win the South, it’s almost a given that the Saints are going to win the division. They are that good. They are scary good, in fact. The simple fact that they are 5-0 and won 2 games without Brees even throwing a TD pass is enough to tell me that they are for real.

Their offense is dynamite (as it always is), but the big difference this year for the Saints is the improved defense, led by coordinator Gary Gibbs (the man that led Sean Payton to take a pay cut so the Saints could afford to keep him on the staff).

The defense is making huge plays this season — holding opponents to 83 rushing yards per game (5th best in the league) and 18.6 points per game (10th best in the league), and have amassed 11 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries (with 2 interception touchdowns). They have the best offense in the league (total yardage and scoring per game) and the best turnover ratio in the league (right now it’s at +9). Based on this information, I would say that it’s safe to assume they are for real this season.

With that being said, the Panthers should focus their attention on the Falcons and the other teams in the NFC that will be fighting for a Wild Card spot. It is possible that the NFC South will become the new NFC East, where 3 of the 4 teams make the playoffs year in and year out. But, this won’t be possible unless the Panthers remain focused on their ultimate goal — a return trip to the playoffs and a run for the Super Bowl.

It will be a fight for the Panthers to make the playoffs — with the Falcons, Cowboys, Eagles, Bears, Packers, 49ers, and Cardinals all in the mix for the Wild Card (and some of these teams are still fighting for their divisions, so there could be even more Wild Card potential teams added to the mix in the coming weeks).

All 7 of these teams are playoff worthy, (the Cardinals or 49ers won’t be in the hunt for a Wild Card because one of them will win the West) so needless to say it will not be easy for the Panthers to knock out all of these teams to earn a playoff bid.

I would say that in order for the Panthers to make the playoffs, they will have to finish at least 11-5. I really don’t believe that 10-6 will get it done for the Panthers (because of tie-breakers — they’ve already lost to the Cowboys and Eagles, and still have to play the Cardinals), so if they want a realistic shot at the playoffs they have to finish the season with a 9-2 record. (Of course, an 11-0 finish and a division title would be nice, but I don’t see that one happening.)

I’m not proclaiming that all the problems in Charlotte are corrected (because I don’t believe they are — they need a new QB before they can truly fix everything), but I do believe that this Panthers team has the guts and the moxie to pull out a 10-6 or 11-5 season and clinch a wild card spot.

And if we pay attention to history, most of the recent Super Bowl champions have been teams that were Wild-Card berths in the playoffs — so anything is possible once the playoffs begin. (Just look at last year’s Arizona Cardinals for proof of that statement.)

Before the Panthers can think about playoff aspirations, they have to focus on the task at hand — beating the Bills this Sunday when they visit Bank of America Stadium. A win puts the Panthers at 3-3 with an opportunity to be above .500 when they take on the Saints at the Superdome in 3 weeks.

It only takes a couple of wins to get momentum going in the right direction, and the Panthers have done that — so hopefully we will see this team put together some more wins and get back in the playoff hunt.

They have a tough road ahead, but I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

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Categories: Regular Season
  1. Evan "McSpazz" Edwards
    22 October 2009 at 3:57 PM

    Hey BDub. The Panthers have a chance, but that chance will only be valid if they can keep Delhomme as a game manager now and win with that run game. Delhomme has fallen so far, so fast. He was never a world beater, but this crumbling is beyond anything or anyone could have ever imagined. The defense needs to get some turnovers also, because I don't think this offense has the moxy capable of making big comebacks if they fall behind.Luckily, they hit the easy part of there schedule before falling to far back from the wildcard lead. It will be a tough road to climb though, because they are so many of what looks like (10-6) (9-7) teams this year in the NFC. It will be a interesting battle for the wildcard with any of these teams vying for it: Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay, Philadelphia and San Francisco. A bunch of teams for only two spots. It looks as if the NFC has finally caught the AFC as far as the number of quality teams. The Panthers division is very tough and will be for years to come with the likes of Brees and Ryan in it. The Panthers will have to do something about their QB sooner rather than later to stay competitive with those two teams.

  2. bwsmith25
    22 October 2009 at 4:01 PM

    Evan – you're right. The NFC is good this year, and the NFC South is going to be good for a long time.I don't understand how Delhomme got so bad so fast — it has blown my mind completely. Like you said, he wasn't a world beater — but he was a decent QB with an average arm and good game management skills. Now, he's a shadow of the man he used to be — and it's more sad than anything.I really hope the Panthers draft a top-tier QB next year (as long as it's not Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow), because it will be great watching QB rivalries with ATL, NO, and TB for the next 5-10 years.

  3. LestersLegends
    23 October 2009 at 1:31 PM

    It's a tough spot to be in. There are a bunch of good teams ahead of them. I don't know that they got 9-2 in them, but that's why the play the games out. You never know.

  4. bwsmith25
    23 October 2009 at 1:47 PM

    I don't know if they do either. They still have to play the Saints twice, the Falcons, the Vikings, the Giants, and the Jets — so 6 of their remaining 11 games are against top-tier teams this season. It's going to be tough.

  5. Fragnoli
    23 October 2009 at 7:35 PM

    A win over a weak Buffalo team is a must for Carolina. Still, with Delhomme at QB, an 11-2 finish is going to take a real turnaround.

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