After starting the season off about as bad as they could, going 1-5 headed into their bye week, the Panthers came back off their bye and showed they are still capable of being the 14-2 team they were in 2015 when they won the NFC Championship. In that game the Panthers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 30-20 in a game that was never really as close as the 10 point final margin indicates, the Panthers were in complete control throughout the entire game, giving their fans hope that maybe the 2016 season can still be saved. With little to no room for error over the final nine weeks of the season, let's take a look at the games remaining and see if the Panthers game make an improbable playoff run.
Week 9: @ Los Angeles Rams: Will be tough for the Panthers to travel to the west coast to face an improved Rams team. However the 4:05 start time helps the Panthers, as it will be just like a normal 1:05 game time on the east coast. The Panthers clearly have more talent than the Rams, and should win this one. Projected record: 3-5
Week 10: Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs will be a tough opponent for the Panthers, but the Panthers will be at home, and if they can maintain the pass russ they displayed in gathering eight sacks against the Cardinals, Carolina has the talent to beat the Chiefs, especially at home. Projected record: 4-5
Week 11: New Orleans Saints. This will be an interesting game for both the Panthers and Saints. A Thursday night game giving both teams a short week. The Saints have already beaten the Panthers this year in New Orleans by a FG. But at home, I'll again take Carolina is a shoot out. Projected record: 5-5
Week 12: @ Oakland Raiders. This will be the start of an extremely tough two weeks for the Panthers. The Raiders are extremely dangerous this season, and this will probably be a track met with two high powered offenses and two extremely average defenses. But again, the 4:25 start time will keep the Panthers on their "normal" start time for an east coast team. Plus the extra rest from having 10 days between games will help Carolina greatly. This one is a toss up, but the Panthers have the talent to pull this one out late. Projected record 6-5
Week 13 @ Seattle Seahawks. A second west coast trip in two weeks, not exactly ideal. But once again the Panthers get a break on the start time, as it's a primetime Sunday Night Football game. Carolina and Seattle always play very competitive and down to the wire games. If Carolina is going to stumble, this is the game it's most likely to happen in. Projected record 6-6
Week 14 San Diego Chargers. The Chargers have proven to be dangerous this year, with wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos. So they definitely aren't a team to be taken lightly and are very capable of coming to Bank of America Stadium and upsetting the Panthers. However it is a 1:00 start time, which generally his tough for the west coast teams when they play on the east coast. Panthers take this one in a tight game. Projected record 7-6
Week 15 @ Washington Redskins. This one will be interesting to see how the Josh Norman story plays out. You can beat Norman will be fired up to face the Panthers and that will show early and give the Redskins a boost early. However I think the superior talent of the Panthers will prevail in Washington. Projected record 8-6
Week 16 Atlanta Falcons. This could be a VERY important game with NFC South and playoffs implications. The Falcons beat Carolina early in the season in a very high scoring game in the Georgia Dome. This one could very well be another high scoring game, and as long as the Panthers can figure out how to cover Julio Jones, I'll take Carolina at home. Projected record 9-6
Week 17 @ Tampa Bay Bucs. The Bucs defeated Carolina on a late second FG on Monday Night Football earlier this year to take a 17-14 win. However the Panthers were without Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart in this game, as well as 3 defensive starters. Carolina has more talent than the Bucs and if that talent makes the trip to Tampa Bay, the Panthers should close out the regular season strong. Projected record 10-6
So let's say the Panthers dogo 9-1 in this stretch, will 10-6 be enough to get the Panthers in the playoffs? I definitely think so. I'm not sold that the Falcons/Bucs/Saints will sustain their success all season long and will fall back, giving the Panthers an opportunity to win their fourth consecutive NFC South title. However if the Panthers are unable to take the division at 10-6, that should be good enough for a wild card spot with a lot of the top NFC team struggling (Packers, Cardinals, etc).
But as we all obviously know, the Panthers much play as they did against the Cardinals to even think of making this run, but it is possible! I will be fun to see how it plays out. Tell me your thoughts in the comment and share!