The defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers are 1-5. It has gotten so bad for the Panthers that they are no longer even discussed when it comes to being a Super Bowl contender. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, and Atlanta Falcons are the first NFC teams to be brought up in that conversation. It has been less than a year since the Panthers blew all of them out. What went so wrong so quickly?
The first thing that went wrong was the Super Bowl. The Panthers went into that game a heavy favorite over the Denver Broncos. So mush of the pregame hype was surrounding the Panthers it was almost as if the game was a mere formality. All they had to do was show up and collect their trophy. But the Broncos had a game plan. They played conservative offense and brought the house to go after MVP quarterback Cam Newton. They hit Newton hard and they hot him often. They forced him into huge turnovers and they showed that he is not Superman when somebody hits him.
They used the same formula to beat them in Week One in Denver. There was even a shot to his head that many claim was a dirty hit late in that game. But it was not flagged. Was this because Cam is so big and strong that refs are not as quick to throw a flag when he gets drilled? Perhaps. But it could be that he has not been right since that game.
The Panthers rebounded in Week Two when they beat the San Francisco 49ers but after that they faced the Minnesota Vikings who may have the best defense in the NFL this year. Cam took yet another beating in that one. Then they went on the road to play the Falcons and Cam was hit so hard on that game that he got a concussion. The Falcons blew the Panthers out in that one and Cam was ruled out for the nest game,a Monday Night Football game with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Derek Anderson sputters in that one and the Bucs won 17-14.
Then on the road at New Orleans, Drew Brees picked the Panthers apart as they sped out to a 21-0 lead. Cam led the Panthers back to tie the game at 38-38 late in the fourth quarter, but the defense couldn’t stop Brees as he led the to a game winning field goal. So here they sit a 1-5 and they have lost to all three teams in the NFC South.
The Panthers have their bye this week, but when play resumes they will be facing the Arizona Cardinals. Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs before hosting the Saints again. The Cardinals, Rams and Chiefs are all in playoff contention and all are playing great defense. The Panthers will then play the Oakland Raiders, the Seahawks, The San Diego Chargers and then the Washington Redskins who are 4-2 right now. Then they finish with the Falcons and Bucs.
Last season the Panthers rode a pillow soft schedule to the Super Bowl. It looks like the schedule makers are making them pay for that this season. That schedule looks like Murderer’s Row.
Carolina would have to go 8-2 just to finish 9-7. 9-7 is no guarantee to make the playoffs. Looking at that gauntlet, it’s hard to imagine them going 8-2. They should be an underdog against the Cardinals, Chiefs, Raiders and Seahawks. There;s a good chance they lose to the Redskins and Falcons as well. The only games they should feel like they have a good chance are Saints and Chargers at home. The Bucs on the road is no gimme.
There would seem to be no way for Carolina to make it to the playoffs this season. Of the five road games they have left, three of them would appear to be sure losses, the Rams, Raiders and Seahawks. The other two with the Redskins and Bucs won’t be easy either. They have to win at least three of them and sweep their five remaining home games to even have a shot. Three of those home games are the Cardinals, Chiefs and Falcons. Uh-oh.