Sitting at a disappointing 1-3, two and a half games behind the red hot Atlanta Falcons (4-1) in the NFC South, and having played very poorly through the first four games of 2016, a lot of people are starting to jump off the Carolina Panthers "bandwagon". But is it possible for the Panthers to still save their 2016 season and make the playoffs? I believe it is, but there is a very thin margin for error. Here is how the Panthers can still make 2016 successful.
It all starts with a huge Monday Night Football game tonight against Tampa Bay. Like the Panthers, the Bucs are sitting at 1-3 and have struggled since beating the Falcons in a shootout in Week 1. The first step to the Panthers turning 2016 around is beating the Bucs tonight in primetime.
Step two comes with a trip to the Superdome in New Orleans in Week 6. The Panthers have a bye week after this game, and getting back to a .500 record at 3-3 would be huge for the Panthers, and should give them a big confidence boost during their bye week given the absolutely dismal start to the 2016 season.
The bye week will also allow the Panthers time to get healthy, which has been a major issue for Carolina so far this year, as well as give the Panthers coaching staff time to focus on getting their young secondary up to speed and better prepared, because it's obvious at this point the Panther's young corners are completely overwhelmed early on.
Coming out of the bye week the Panthers will host the Arizona Cardinals in what will be the Panthers biggest game so far this season. Getting a win over the Cardinals and their high powered offense would do wonders for this Panthers defense and their mindset.
Do you see where I'm going with this? Basically from here on out the rest of the season, the Panthers MUST play one game at a time and basically play each week like an "elimination" game, because with the Falcons starting to show they are a threat this season and the Vikings, Packers and Seahawks all two and a half games ahead of the Panthers, the Panthers can't afford many more defeats.
Honestly, the best way for the Panthers to turn 2016 into a success and reach the playoffs for the fourth straight season will be by winning the NFC South. The good news is the Panthers still have seven division games left, starting against the Bucs tonight, and as bad as it has been so far, the Panthers still basically control their own fate. But it all starts tonight in a must win situation. If the Panthers fall tonight to 1-4, they will be pretty much out of any contention, barring a complete collapse by the Falcons down the stretch.