Breaking Down the Remaining Games for Ron Rivera, Cam Newton and the Panthers
After struggling through a 2-6 start to the season, Carolina comes off the bye week with four of six NFC South games remaining. Despite having one of the league’s worst records at the season’s halfway point, the Panthers have shown enough promise to reasonably believe a strong finish is within reach.
Here’s a look at the eight remaining opponents and my prediction for each game. As I will explain game-by-game, I see the Panthers finishing 5-3 down the stretch for a record of 7-9 (3-3 NFC South) in their first season under coach Ron Rivera and rookie quarterback Cam Newton.
Week 10 vs. Tennessee (4-4)
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After a hot start, Tennessee has dropped three of four and looks as beatable as anybody on Carolina’s schedule. Running back Chris Johnson simply isn’t the player he was in 2009 and 2010, and with wide receiver Kenny Britt out for the year, the Panthers should be able to outscore an offense ranked 32nd in the league in rushing.
Prediction: W, 31-17
Week 11 @ Detroit (6-2)
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After the 5-0 start, the Lions have come down to earth, but are still imposing. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Jahvid Best have been fighting recent injuries, but at Ford Field, Ndamukong Suh and Co. will make this one of the toughest games of Cam Newton’s young career.
Prediction: L, 31-28
Week 12 @ Indianapolis (0-9)
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The once-formidable Colts haven't looked much better than some college teams without Peyton Manning. Facing easily the worst team in football, the Panthers should be primed to enjoy a rare blowout victory over Indianapolis. A loss here would be completely unacceptable.
Prediction: W, 35-14
Week 13 @ Tampa Bay (4-4)
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It’s hard to know which Tampa Bay team will show up. The Bucs have split two games against the Saints and have beaten the Falcons, but were embarrassed by San Francisco and lost to Chicago. Tampa takes on the Texans and Packers in the next two weeks, and Carolina will have a better idea about its chances after those games.
Tampa has struggled on defense—the Bucs are ranked 27th against the pass and 26th against the run—and it was announced today that DT Gerald McCoy will miss the rest of the season. The Panthers will likely be taking on a reeling division foe and should have enough offense to pull it out.
Prediction: W, 30-24
Week 14 vs. Atlanta (5-3)
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Atlanta has bounced back after a disappointing start and is looking more and more like last season’s 13-3 division winner every week. With rookie wide receiver Julio Jones emerging and Michael Turner, who has always given the Panthers fits, in the backfield, it’s unlikely Carolina will be able to avenge a turnover-filled loss in Week 6.
Prediction: L, 28-21
Week 15 @ Houston (6-3)
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Houston’s running game is dominating the way Carolina’s own Double Trouble did a few years ago, and with Andre Johnson likely to have returned from injury by this time, this one will be tough. The Texans have successfully run the ball against stronger front sevens much stronger than Carolina’s, and with a long-awaited playoff berth on the line, Houston won’t let this one get away.
Prediction: L, 35-28
Week 16 vs. Tampa Bay (4-4)
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Carolina will stick to the same formula it used in Week 13 to beat the Bucs again three weeks later.
Prediction: W, 30-21
Week 17 @ New Orleans (6-3)
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New Orleans has by no means run away with the division yet, but I think the Saints will have the NFC South wrapped up and will be resting Drew Brees and other key starters for the final game of the regular season. Carolina will avenge a heartbreaking loss earlier in the season against a Saints team content with a No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC.
Prediction: W, 31-23