The Carolina Panthers Attempt to Secure No. 2 NFC Seed and NFC South Title

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The Carolina Panthers Attempt to Secure No. 2 NFC Seed and NFC South Title

Are the 2008 edition of the Carolina Panthers comparable to the 2003 Super Bowl team or the 2005 squad which lost the NFC title game? We will know the answer to this question within the next few weeks.

Are the Carolina Panthers over the very tough overtime loss to the New York Giants? They better be. We better hope that having home field advantage throughout the playoffs is overrated.  Just ask the 2007 New York Giants.

Carolina’s offense played a sensational first half under adverse weather conditions at the Meadowlands, but what happened in the second half?  The defense showed us, at least in that single game,  they are not in shape to stop the run and to last four quarters and overtime. 

In the meantime, it’s Carolina versus the Saints in New Orleans, NFL week 17.  The Panthers seek their first NFC South title in four years as they visit Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

Carolina's DeAngelo Williams is one long touchdown away from tying a 50-year-old record set by the man still widely considered the greatest running back in NFL history: Jim Brown.  Williams has six touchdown runs of 30 yards or longer this season, one shy of the record set in 1958 by Hall of Famer Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns. Brown's record of seven touchdowns of 30 or more yards was set in a 12-game season. However, he scored five of the TDs in the first six games.

Speaking of records, will Drew Brees break the Dan Marino passing record this Sunday?  The three-time Pro-Bowler needs 402 passing yards—a total he's surpassed twice this season—to break Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084 set in 1984. But Brees said personal accolades come second behind assuring his team is victorious on Sunday.

The only game this season in which Brees did not throw a touchdown pass was against Carolina on Oct. 19, when he was 21-of-39 for 231 yards with an interception in a 30-7 road loss. He's had no more than 260 yards passing in his last three starts versus the Carolina.

The Panthers haven't let an opposing quarterback throw for 300 yards in seven straight games, but it was the run that did in their defense last week. They gave up 301 rushing yards to the G-men and surrendered a season-high 459 yards overall.

Another question: will this be Deuce McAlister’s final game as a New Orleans Saint?

In general, it seems like the expectations are for Panthers to lose on the road to the Saints and for the Falcons to win first place of the NFC South with an easy victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Let’s clarify.  Carolina can secure its first NFC South title since 2003, when it reached the Super Bowl for the only time in the franchise's 14-year history, if it beats New Orleans (8-7) or if Atlanta falls to St. Louis. However, if the Panthers lose and the Falcons win, Carolina would miss out on a first-round bye and have to open the playoffs on the road next week in Arizona.

Let the excuses begin.

The Panthers' defense is banged up, giving up a lot of points and in an unusual spot under defensive-minded coach John Fox: trying to keep pace with the offense. The Carolina Panthers were without both starting defensive tackles at practice Wednesday, ahead of their regular-season finale against the league's top offense.

Sidelined with a shoulder injury,Damione Lewis missed practice on Friday for the third consecutive day and is listed as doubtful.  In addition, Ma’ake Kemoeatu practiced on a limited basis with a sprained right ankle and is listed as questionable for Carolina (11-4), which needs to defeat New Orleans (8-7) to secure the NFC South title and a No. 2 seed in the conference.

The Panthers have a 3-4 road record paired with a perfect 8-0 home won-loss record.  Carolina is 0-2 in domes this season.

Regarding the defensive tackles and injuries. Every team faces injury and diversity.  Substitutes are highly paid professionals who are supposed to step it up with the regular starters to uplift the team. In reality, 2008 may have been the healthiest season in Panthers team history.

After squandering (some may say “choking”) an opportunity to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Carolina Panthers want to make sure they at least finish No. 1 in their division.  As Carolina tries to make sure it wraps up the regular season with the No. 2 seed, it will try to bounce back from its worst defensive performance of the season.

The Saints have no post season inventive to win this game, just pride before the home crowd and to help Brees make NFL history.  Brees’ and coach Sean Payton's focus is instead on helping New Orleans (8-7) finish with a winning record for just the third time in eight years, even though it will miss the playoffs for a second straight season.

I preview this game as a contest between two competent and efficient offenses versus two defenses that tend to give up a lot of points on the scoreboard, as well as yards.  This could be a stereotypical but most exciting and entertaining offensive game in which the team with the ball lasts scores and win.

This season’s opportunity to win the NFC South and the upcoming playoff run are most likely quarterback Jake Delhomme’s best and final opportunity to return to the Super Bowl, and the offense is acting like it with a dominating running attack and a clutch and opportunistic passing game.

Carolina's offense is on a roll unlike ever before, scoring at least 28 points in six straight games. They've never been stronger on the ground, rushing for a franchise-record 2,203 yards and 29 touchdowns.

The Carolina Panthers will need to find a way to fix their run defense and get it healthy if they hope to go anywhere in the NFC playoffs. The pass defense still gives up too many big plays as well.

Only if the Panthers’ defense would learn from the Giants’ loss, make adjustments, and then step it up and play like prime time players for four entire quarters and if needed, for overtime too. 

Coach John Fox's team now faces the top-ranked offense in the league. The New Orleans average 415.1 yards and 28.8 points per game.

Defensively, New Orleans has held three of its last four opponents to 255 yards or fewer. However, the Saints gave up more than 100 yards rushing for the 10th time this season last Sunday, and will be facing arguably the league's hottest rushing attack.

Carolina has run for at least 128 yards in seven straight games, gaining an average of 184.6 in that span. DeAngelo Williams ran for 108 yards versus the Giants and had his second four-touchdown game in four weeks. He's rushed for 923 yards and 16 TDs over his last eight games.

What concerns me the most about this game? Besides the injuries of the defensive tackles, it is the fact that the Panthers lost and played poorly in their only two dome appearances during this 2008 campaign. I have confidence in our offense, but not in our defense. Besides the Denver game, the defense has given up a lot of points since the Falcons’ loss at Atlanta.

What shows me promise and gives me hope? First, two words: Cardiac Cats.  Then, Carolina’s offense is on full throttle and the defense is forced to be fixed for the post season.

Although I respect the Saints and their offensive capabilities, they are no where near the talent level of the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants, especially on the interior line on both sides of the ball. The Superdome can get noisy, but it is warm and cozy compared to last week’s cold and windy conditions at the Meadowlands.

This game is a tough pick since NFC South teams are dominant at home.  My heart says Panthers but my head tells me Saints. I hope that I am wrong but I see Carolina ending the season on a losing note, but rebounding for a good run in playoffs before losing to Giants again in NFC title game—at the Meadowlands.

The Silver Fox Forecast: Saints 33, Panthers 30

When it comes to picking games, I hover around 65% to 70% for the entire NFL season and even less so (about 55%) when it comes to the Panthers.  Carolina is my team and because I am so emotional about them, it becomes more difficult to view my Panthers with objective lenses, but I try.

It would be much more simpler and easier to merely be a homer and a cheerleader, to show blind faith in Carolina,  and then pick my Panthers to win every game. But I am not built that way and I don’t think that way. I am more of a realist than an idealist. As much as I love my team and want them to win so badly, I am also honest about my team.

One of the great experiences about being a Carolina Panthers fan is knowing that my team is capable of winning or losing any game, despite the circumstances that may either favor or disfavor my team regarding winning a particular game.  We just never know which type of Carolina team shows up until the game begins: the Panthers are either at their best or are flat, with little inbetween.

Before the 2008 season, the Panthers were true road warriors for most seasons, winning as many or more on the road than they did at home.  Carolina did an about face in this 2008 season, as the 8-0 home and the 3-4 road records are well-documented.

The Panthers have a Super Bowl contending offense, but in most seasons, defense wins championships.  On the other hand, it is the NFC and in this age of NFL parity, anything can happen.

A year ago, hardly anyone saw the Giants going the distance either. New York won all of their 2007 post season games on the road.

So Panthers fans, we can keep hope alive, at least for two more weeks, but hopefully for about five more weeks.

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