Earlier this week, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was reported as saying he felt the Panthers could win ten games this season. I felt this was a lofty goal, especially after the sorry excuse for a season we all saw last year. Now, granted, some big name signings in free agency, the addition of number-one draft pick Cam Newton, and an all-around healthier squad does forecast better days ahead here in Charlotte – but ten? Freaking ten? Even the biggest of homers has to look at that with a grain of skepticism. I decided to break down this season’s upcoming schedule and see where exactly we could pull out ten wins. I’d break these games down into four categories: “Should Win,” “A Little Harder but Do-able,” “Division,” and “We Gotta Steal One.”
The first part is easy – there are four teams that the Panthers should beat, no question. If we lose one of these games, we are looking at more of a two-win season versus a ten-win season. We are also looking at me sitting in the stands with a confused look on my face, something similar to one Snooki would make if she were to walk into a library. I don’t expect much from Arizona, Jacksonville, Washington, and Minnesota. Three of those games are at home, which, even on an off-day, the home crowd should be able to pull a win out for us. The other game is the season-opener against Arizona. While Arizona has definitely improved at quarterback from last season, this is nowhere near the same Cardinal team that torched us in the 2008 playoffs (yes, that game still hurts). This game is probably going to be a little closer than I think it will, but I suspect we will pull out a “W.” Jacksonville and Minnesota are two teams in the midst of rebuilding, and they still have a lot of question marks around them. Washington, as far as I can tell, has pretty much cemented themselves as the front runner in the “we want Andrew Luck” campaign. I do expect us to win all four of these games.
The next tier of games is in what I call the “A Little Harder but Do-able” portion, and they feature Houston, Chicago and Detroit. I set these teams a little higher in terms of talent than the previous four. Also, all three of these games are on the road. In order to reach our goal of ten, we are probably going to have to win two of these three. The most likely one to accomplish is probably against Houston in week 15. The Texans in past years have been a team that likes to start off hot and then sizzle out around mid-season. Since we are playing them so late in the season, I am hoping that they have continued their tradition of going into a downward spiral, and that we can pull out a victory. Houston also plays the Colts in Indy the week after our game in a Thursday night game, so maybe we can catch them looking ahead. We face Detroit right after our bye week, so hopefully we can prepare for two weeks against a team that as of late is showing a plethora of talent on defense and an offense that, when healthy, can put up some points. Chicago can also be dangerous, but perhaps playing them in week four will work to our advantage and we’ll find Jay Cutler still hasn’t shaken off the recent break-up with Kristin Cavallari. Also, our old friend, number 90 (He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named), could give us some bulletin board material to get the locker room fired up. Either way, the bottom line is that we need to win two of these three games to make this happen.
Next come our divisional games. Carolina is going to have to get three wins out of the NFC South, which in my opinion is the toughest division in the NFL. The schedule is bottom-heavy with divisional opponents in four of the final five weeks of the season. In order to get to ten wins, we are going to have to be clicking on all cylinders heading in to the final weeks. For arguments sake, let’s say that we beat Atlanta here in Charlotte, split with Tampa and maybe New Orleans is resting their starters in week 18. That will give us the three wins. There are several scenarios that can get us there, but anything less than .500 in the division isn’t going to get it done. Of course, the NFC South is always a peculiar beast, rarely sporting the same winner two years in a row and constantly reversing order.
To recap so far for those of you keeping score at home: that’s four wins from the first tier, two from the second, and three from the third, putting us at nine wins.
The last (but certainly not least) group of opponents is Green Bay and Indianapolis. Clearly I don’t need to go into how good these two teams are. If you aren’t aware of that, then you probably haven’t read this far anyway. Carolina is going to have to steal one these games. We host Green Bay here in the home opener, and we get Indy in the middle of a three-game road trip following the bye. Now I can throw out any cliché you want – “any given Sunday” or “never say never” – but we all know that everything has to gel to beat one of these two teams. I will say this, however: the Panthers in the past have a knack for beating teams nobody thinks that they have any business beating. Rodgers and Manning aren’t above having bad games – it just doesn’t happen too often.
So there you have it – on paper anyway. Ten wins. By no means do I expect this to actually happen, but I will be the first to eat crow if it does (plus I’m not sure crow is in season in January). I commend Rivera for saying it, too. What’s he supposed to say? “Yeah, I, uh, hope we can get to .500!” Nobody wants to hear that. Plus, it’s a lot better than “it is what is.” Ten wins, while optimistic, is a goal that can be reached – it will take skill, timing and some luck.
Predicting wins and losses in the NFL is never easy. However, I did consult my magic eight ball in this matter, and its response was “signs point to yes.”
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