The NFC South is one of the tougher divisions in the league. As a Panthers fan, I have endured my share of woeful seasons competing with the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New Orleans Saints. I have also witnessed the Panthers dominate the division for three consecutive seasons.
Right now, the Panthers sit with a record of 4-3, and are in second place behind the Saints with the tiebreaker going to New Orleans. We will take a look at what this means for Carolina.
Can the Panthers still be a playoff team?
If the Panthers want to be a playoff team, they need to find out who they are
Carolina is usually a team that doesn’t struggle with their identity. Their loss to the Chicago Bears, two weeks ago, told a completely different story. They gave up two defensive touchdowns to the Bears and had practically no offense to speak of minus the three points they managed to score. Granted, had Chicago not scored those two TDs, we are looking at a totally different game.
Panthers head coach, Ron Rivera, said that in order for his team to be playoff contenders, they are going to have to find out who they are.
Carolina has to learn to play through adversity
Next man up is not only a statement but is also a way of life for these NFL teams. This isn’t the first time this team has had to play through injury. In fact, two of their seasons under the Rivera regime ended with trips to the postseason.
During the 2014 season, Carolina was riddled with injury. At one point, they didn’t even have an offensive backfield to speak of. During the turmoil, they were able to rally to a 7-8-1 record, an NFC South title, and a wild-card win against the Arizona Cardinals. It wasn’t an ideal season for the team, but they were determined to find the identity that would propel them next season.
Enter Kelvin Benjamin’s torn ACL. The 2015 campaign was sure to be promising until news rang out that the team would lose their big bodied wide receiver for the entire season. At that time, Devin Funchess was still a developing receiver and the only reliable target was Greg Olsen.
Now, Adam Schefter reports that they traded Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills for a third and seventh round pick. Although the move seems to come abruptly in the middle of the season, and just 20 minutes before the NFL trade deadline, it proves that the Bills are trying to end a 17-year playoff drought. What this also proves, is the Panthers need to build a team long term. Those draft picks can add depth to the offensive line as well as the receiving core.
Division is Key
There is essentially a three-way tie in the NFC South even though the Saints have the one-game lead. New Orleans has been hot since giving up their first two games. The rest of their schedule surely proves to test how durable they are. Depending on how Carolina plays the rest of their schedule, they could squeeze out of the South on top.
Carolina isn’t out of contention for the playoffs. Right now there are plenty of scenarios to get them into the postseason. If they hope to be a playoff team, winning is key.