Carolina Panthers: Why It's Important to Finish the Season with a Positive Tone

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent INovember 29, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 27:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after running for a touchdown during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers (3-8) have no shot at making the 2011 NFL playoffs, but their season is far from over.

With five games to go, the Panthers play twice against the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) and visit the Houston Texans (8-3) who lost their top two quarterbacks, Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, in consecutive games and will likely start the rookie from UNC, T.J Yates, the rest of the way.

Throw in a home date with the Atlanta Falcons (7-4) and a Week 17 matchup at New Orleans (8-3), who could be locked into the No. 2 or No. 3 seed entering the final game and could wind up resting its starters, and the Panthers have a chance to get on a roll and finish the season on a positive note.


Start With Two

The Panthers' first goal is to start a winning streak at Tampa Bay after beating the Colts on the road last week.

Last week's win was the Panthers' first road-victory since 2009 and they hope to win consecutive games this weekend, also for the first time since 2009.

Head coach Ron Rivera is focused on the task at hand when the Panthers visit Tampa Bay, but the importance of winning two in a row is at the front of his mind.

"It's an opportunity now to do something we haven't done and that's win back-to-back games," said Rivera. "It'd be outstanding to be able to win back-to-back games on the road."


Playing for Six Sundays

With five games left in the Panthers' season, coach Rivera said the team is "playing for six Sunday now. The next five and the one going into next season."

He added that the Panthers will continue to approach their schedule one game at a time, but in the back of their minds, the teams knows what they are playing for and it's more than just a win in 2011.

"It's an opportunity to set the tone and we've just got to approach it that way," Rivera said of the team's remaining games. "Just keep working hard and good things will happen."


Quick Turnarounds Are Possible in the NFL

Panthers fans, players and coaches knew this would be a rebuilding year, but Carolina's goal and the new reality of the NFL is that moribund teams can be quickly resurrected through good drafts, good coaching and free agency.

The Detroit Lions (7-4) are a perfect example of a team quickly turning its fortunes around.

After going 0-16 in 2009, the Lions finished 6-10 under their new head coach, Jim Schwartz, and they won their final four games of the season.

Detroit proceeded to win its first five games this season and the Lions are on pace for a Wild Card position in the playoffs.

Though it sounds almost antithetical to say, the Carolina Panthers are trying to follow the Detroit Lions' model for rebuilding a franchise, and it just may work.