It is strange to think of a game between a couple of teams with a combined .100 winning percentage at this point in the season as a must-win for either side, but for the Carolina Panthers, this is a game they need to win.
Following an NFL-worst 2-14 season in 2010, the Panthers were not expected to contend for much of anything in 2011, but they surprised a lot of people, including fans, media, players and coaches with their competitiveness in the first half of the season.
Though they ended the first half of their bifurcated season at 2-6, the Panthers had, until their Week 9 bye, competed in every game with a chance to win each contest entering the fourth quarter.
The inspiring play of rookie quarterback Cam Newton and his favorite target, the rejuvenated Steve Smith, built both excitement and hope surrounding the Panthers organization, and they lent an air of confidence uncommon to a fan base cheering for a last-place team only three years removed from a 12-4 season.
Expectations were high for at least a 4-4 mark, or better, in the second half of the Panthers season, but their performance in the first two games following the bye-week has been anything but inspirational.
The Panthers' offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season in a 30-3 loss to the Titans and the Panthers' defense had one of the worst performances in franchise history in Carolina's 49-35 defeat at Detroit.
The Colts are coming off their Week 11 bye-week after suffering the worst stretch of their winless season in which they were outscored 137-27 in only four games.
Their worst defeat was a 62-7 thrashing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints (7-3) and their highest offensive output came in a 27-10 loss to Tennessee.
Must-Win for Carolina
Despite their shared proclivity for losing games this season, the Panthers and Colts seasons are antithetical.
The Colts' season has been defined by the absence of their franchise quarterback, Peyton Manning, while the Panthers' season has been defined by rookie quarterback Cam Newton's record-setting play.
The Colts are clearly in "Suck for Luck" mode while the Panthers are desperate for wins to close the season on a positive note heading into the 2012 NFL season in which they will hope to compete for the NFC South divisional crown.
Indianapolis is well on its way to securing the top spot in the 2012 NFL Draft while Carolina is desperate to improve on last season's 2-14 record in order to justify the hope and the hype surrounding the Panthers organization just a few short weeks ago.
If the Panthers lose this one, they may not only lose their fan base for the rest of the season, they may lose the will to compete that marked the team earlier this year.
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