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Despite Loss In Opener And Lifting Of Saints’ Suspensions, Panthers Can Still Eye NFC South Crown

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(credit: J. Meric/Getty Images)

(credit: J. Meric/Getty Images)

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In Week 1, the Carolina Panthers lost a game to the Buccaneers in Tampa that should have gone in the win column, but there were other NFL teams that fell into that category, like the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. In the grand scheme of things, one loss does not define a season even in a league that has just 16 games on its regular season schedule.

The NFC South is thought to be a division in transition. The New Orleans Saints were hammered for the bounty scandal, the always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride Atlanta Falcons are still trying to find a way to win the big one, and the upstart Panthers seemed to find religion when Can Newton started barking out plays. But pundits may also have to rethink their predictions after the Buccaneers looked more like a playoff team in Week 1 than one who lost 10 in a row to close out 2011.

One thing that became very clear Week 1: Because the Saints scored a major victory over their tormentor, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, by having player suspensions overturned by a three-person arbitration panel, they had a chance to ride the wave of good fortune and beat a team they should have beaten. They failed––at home no less––and it could be an indicator why some have predicted they go 8-8.

New Orleans defensive lineman, Will Smith, got a chance to play at right end and had one tackle and three assists. His lack of production might have had something to do with missing the entirety of camp and preseason, but he is part of a New Orleans’ defense that can be scored upon almost at will.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma did not play and is on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list because of a knee issue. Even if it somehow works out that Goodell is unable to punish him for his alleged actions last year, Vilma will miss at least the next five games. Maybe that is why he and Goodell will actually meet face to face to “negotiate” any action tied to Bounty Gate.

While the arbitration panel threw the player suspensions back in the lap of Goodell, there is absolutely nothing being done, at least right now, on behalf of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, who was kicked out of the league for a year, and his substitute Joe Vitt, as he was also shown the door for the first six contests. Defensive lineman coach Aaron Kromer is the “interim replacement” for the “interim head coach,” and if that has your head spinning, think of what the players have to deal with.

The Saints loss to Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins was a kick to their collective gut, not so much because Washington rang up 40 points – a college team out of the SEC could probably do that – but because they let their on-field leader Drew Brees get unceremoniously dumped on his rear a half-dozen times, and because Brees was picked off twice by a defense ranked 21st in 2011. The offense was inept, converting just 2-of-11 third down conversion attempts.

Now the Saints will roll into Charlotte to take on a Panthers team that is just as angry over their opening day flop as the Saints are. The difference is that New Orleans was untouchable at home last year but went just 5-3 on the road and they do not have a defense that can stop someone like Newton. They were 30th in the league against the pass last year.

While starting 0-2 is not a death sentence, it could hurt the Saints more simply because of all the internal strife. A win by the Panthers opens the door for a neck-and-neck battle for the top spot in the South with the Falcons.

For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Panthers news, see CBS Sports Charlotte.

Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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