In the Carolina Panthers' only nationally televised game of the year, they are given the task of trying to beat an aggravated Pittsburgh Steelers team that fell short in a 22-17 loss to the New York Jets.
These two teams are on completely different paths with two weeks left. The Panthers are looking to lock up the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, while the Steelers are trying to keep hold of the AFC North lead.
The Steelers are 10-4 this season and are looking to get some momentum going into the playoffs. Their loss to the Jets was due mainly to an untimely safety and the unsure hands of tight end Matt Spaeth, who dropped two catchable passes in the end zone. Heath Miller will be back tonight, so Ben Roethlisberger will feel more comfortable.
Fortunately for Carolina, Troy Polamalu is doubtful to play, so he and his $1 million hair can’t hurt us.
The Carolina Panthers are coming off a rare victory over the Arizona Cardinals. What was really different about the win was that it was in dominating fashion. Sure, the offense still can’t score a touchdown if given the ball on the opponent’s 10-yard line, but it was a good win.
The defense dominated quarterback John Skelton, and the Cardinals' running game was nonexistent. Plus, Charles Johnson added another sack to his total and now has 9.5 for the year. He has 10.5 total sacks for his career.
More importantly, the offense moved the ball. Jimmy Clausen had a good day with one touchdown and zero turnovers. Jonathan Stewart continued to trample over defenses as he piled up 137 yards on 27 carries. This will be the combination the Panthers will need against the Steelers.
I realize that a loss tonight would officially put the Carolina Panthers on the clock, but this is Clausen’s audition. It is tonight that he will need to show something to the league and show that Andrew Luck is needed somewhere else.
He is facing one of the best defenses in the NFL, and they like to blitz—a lot. If he can show his skills, make big plays, convert third downs and not turn the ball over, he could open some eyes and maybe become the starter for Carolina next season.
Though Clausen has a big task in front of him, it will be up to the defense to give him the opportunity to succeed. Pittsburgh will run the ball with Rashard Mendenhall, and they have speedster Mike Wallace to make plays in the passing game. Carolina will need to force at least two turnovers and do something it hasn't done all year: stop the run.
No one is expecting anything other than the playoff-bound Steelers to beat up on the beat-up Panthers, but how about a nice Christmas gift to the Panther fans out there? Why not give it one last HOORAH! and prove that this team is so much better than its record? Why not take down the Steelers on national television and make John Fox proud one last time?