The first half of the season is now behind the Carolina Panthers, and after eight games and the bye they stand at 2-6. Some people are even saying the Panthers are the best 2-6 team they have ever seen. So, going forward, what does the rest of the season look like for Carolina? Should we expect to be 2-6 or 6-2 through the next eight games? I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between that, but let’s look at the schedule going forward.
Our first game coming straight out of the bye week is Tennessee at home. The Titans are a team that has struggled lately, losing three of the last four games. Given the fact that Carolina has had two weeks to prepare for this game, and that Chris Johnson has not been the rusher we are accustomed to seeing this season, the Panthers should pick up their third win of the season.
After the Titans, Carolina has a three-game road trip featuring Detroit, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. The Lions are playing as well as any team in NFC right now – this will not be easy for the Panthers. Detroit boasts he sixth-best pass defense in the NFL, which is where Carolina likes to attack teams. If they are able to shut down Steve Smith, it could be a long Sunday for the Cats. One thing I did notice, however, is that the Panthers catch the Lions one week before their Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Green Bay Packers. If the Lions are looking ahead, it is possible Carolina could pull off the upset on the road, but not likely. Indianapolis has yet to win a game this season, and I expect that to be the same after week twelve. Cam Newton should be able light up the Colts secondary, and if our defense can’t stop whatever combination of Joseph Addai, Delone Carter or Donald Brown then I don’t think they will be able to stop anybody. The last game of the road trip we will play division rivals Tampa Bay. The Bucs are a team that started the season off 3-1, but since then they have gone 1-3 and have really struggled on defense. They just lost defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for the season, so I don’t see that defense getting any better. I think we will beat the Bucs at Tampa and then again when we play them at home on Christmas Eve.
Returning from the road trip, the Panthers will get another shot at Atlanta when they come to visit Bank of America stadium. The Falcons in week six handed the Panthers their worst loss of the season. I don’t like how Carolina matches up in this one. The Falcons defense is good enough to contain the Panther aerial attack, and their offense has already proven it can go toe-to-toe in scoring while also keeping Cam Newton off the field. The Panthers will have the luxury of facing Matt Ryan outdoors in the cold, conditions he has historically not been that great in, but if they can’t find an answer for Michael Turner expect the same results as last time.
Carolina will then travel to Houston in week fifteen. There is nothing about this Texans game that I look forward to for the Panthers. Houston plays up to our strengths and weaknesses. They are currently ranked second in the NFL in pass defense, and they are a team who likes to blitz and get after the quarterback. If our offensive line can’t stop the pass rush, it will be a long day for Cam Newton. On the other side, the Panthers have proven they can’t stop anybody rushing the ball. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are both on pace for 1000-yard rushing seasons, and the Panthers will merely be a road hump on their way to that. This one could get out of hand and quickly.
I have already said that I like the Panthers to finish the sweep of Tampa Bay in week sixteen, which leads us to the final game of the season with New Orleans. Some are speculating that the Saints could be resting their starters by week seventeen, but I don’t think it’s likely. I do expect New Orleans to win the division, but with Green Bay and San Francisco ahead of them they will be jockeying for position in the playoffs. The Saints are much tougher at home, and I expect with everything on the line that they will be ready for the Panthers. I think New Orleans takes this one.
I see Carolina winning four of its last eight games to finish 6-10. They won’t be heading to the playoffs, but I think six wins is respectable and should be a good beginning to the rebuilding process here in Carolina. The Panthers will double their win total in the second half of the season and prove that they are much better than their 2-6 record shows.