Carolina Dreamin’: Analyzing the Panthers’ Remaining Schedule
I've always been a big believer in the idea that no NFL team will ever again go undefeated. However, enough can't be said about the Carolina Panthers so far on this season, and what they've been able to accomplish. Going into the December portion of the slate, the Panthers have a prime opportunity become the first NFC team to clinch a perfect record in the regular season. Can they pull it off? Let's take a look at the final portion of the schedule...
December 6: @ New Orleans
4:25 PM, FOX
Now the Mercedes-Benz Superdome isn't the impenetrable fortress it once was, but the Saints are 3-2 on the year there thus far. New Orleans, currently sitting at 4-6 on the year, two games behind the final NFC wild card spot, has been such a schizophrenic team this season. They've handed the Atlanta Falcons, current holders of that final wild card, their first loss of the season and put up a magnificent 52 points on the New York Giants, but at the same time, this is a team that has lost to Tennessee at home and were a complete no-show in a 47-14 defeat last week....at the hands of the Redskins, no less. For what it's worth, the Saints played the Panthers pretty close in the teams' first meeting back in Week 3, a 27-22 Carolina W.
December 13: vs Atlanta
1:00 PM, FOX
The Falcons face the Panthers twice in the final month of the season, and the matchups couldn't have come at a worse time for Atlanta. Sure they're sitting at 6-4 in the aforementioned final wild card, but that's a far cry from the September/October Falcons who were at 5-0, a time that seems like forever ago. These games are always pretty intense, and frankly the Falcons are too good of a team to completely blow this to a mediocre NFC wild care picture. But if the loss does strike for the Panthers, it won't be at home to Atlanta here. Check back on the Falcons further down.
December 20: @ NY Giants
1:00 PM, FOX
Ah, the Giants. Of course, you're well aware at this point that the Giants stopped perfection once before in Super Bowl XLII against the New England Patriots, but many forget the 1998 season, where the Giants, thanks to a game winning touchdown drive engineered by Kent Graham (!), ended the Denver Broncos' bid at eternal glory. Of course, that's ancient history at this point, but here's something ironically interesting...the 98 Giants' win over Denver came in Week 15 of the season. This game takes place in....Week 15....hey, with the Giants gearing up for one of those "sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 and somehow run the table to the Lombardi trophy" runs, anything's possible. Besides, remember what happened in 07? The Giants played well in a loss to New England in the regular season before the Super Bowl. Better take care of business Panthers!
December 27: @Atlanta
So why is this matchup more important? First off it's later in the season (duh). Second off, consider Carolina's current gaps in the NFC races. They own a 6.5 game lead on the wild cards (they clinch a playoff berth with a Tampa Bay loss on Sunday), a 4.5 game lead in the division, a 3.5 game lead on Minnesota for a 1st round bye, and a 2.5 game lead on Arizona for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Carolina could realistically have all of those categories nabbed by Week 16. So do you start resting guys and give up a chance at perfection, a la '09 Colts? Or do you go all out in this game? You have to go latter option. The last thing you want is to let Atlanta beat you then run into them come playoff time.
January 3: vs Tampa Bay
You could repeat all the reasons I said the 2nd Atlanta game was difficult and put it right here, but there's also this to consider; Tampa Bay, Panthers notwithstanding, could be the hottest team in the NFC right now. This is a completely different Buccaneers teams that fell 37-23 to Carolina in Week 4. Left for dead after a 2-4 start, the Bucs have gone 3-1 in their past 4, launching Jameis Winston to the front of the Rookie of the Year race. Tampa Bay has "team you don't want to run into the playoffs" potential written all over them, and Carolina would do themselves justice by taking care of them now.
A 16-0 mark is definitely possible with this remaining slate. But will it happen? Don't count on it.
There are simply too many factors that could go wrong here. Don't get me wrong. The Panthers deserve the respect they, for whatever reason, are not afforded. I just don't see perfection happening.
Next week, provided they beat Denver, we take a look at New England's remaining slate.
Geoff Magliocchetti thinks that a perfect NFL season is one of the 7 sports records that will never be broken; Find out the others on Twitter @GeoffMags5490
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