By Ted Fleming
Ron Rivera’s team may already be falling into scoreboard watching mode after just three games. They thought they would be 1-2 at this point of the season. Then came the improbable victory over the Saints. Then we had hope they would ride that wave into their national debut against the Giants four days later… until it turned into an unmitigated disaster. Exceed expectations, then fail to meet the new ones they’ve set—it’s hard to keep up just a fraction into the 2012 season.
Things do not get any easier for Carolina, as they have the Falcons in Atlanta, and the much improved Seahawks at home before a breather comes in the way of a bye. At that point, the Panthers could be looking to get the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, or begin thoughts of possibly printing playoff tickets. Being 3-2 with a week off is a lot better than falling to 1-4. Even a split of the next two contests isn’t earth shattering leaving them at 2-3. In any scenario, they could use some help from the outside.
So where does that leave a club that was expected to take the next step in their progression toward being a perennial winner? The 53 players, and quite possibly the entire coaching staff, who will be home watching DirecTV’s eight-game NFL Sunday Ticket box will have quite an interest in games they are not playing. To paraphrase a line from the old standard “Take me out to the ballgame,” it will be Root, root, root for those guys playing our division rivals.
With the Saints, Buccaneers and Falcons all in action, let’s look how the Panthers would benefit should all three lose.
It begins with the Chiefs (0-2) visiting the Saints (0-2) in New Orleans. The Bayou Bunch won all eight regular season home games last season and it was somewhat of a shock when they failed to continue the streak into 2012 getting dumped by the Panthers.
Kansas City will have to find the same magic Carolina did and that is not an easy task. But if they can bedevil the Saints into losing their third straight and second at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, they will remain in last place one game out of third. More importantly for the Panthers, each club will be tied within the division, albeit 0-2.
Is there a chance KC gets its first win of the year? Sure but that will only happen if the Saints busses will have to miss Exit 234B on Interstate 10 and continue on into Alabama. This is clearly a “root, root, root” game.
The Buccaneers (1-1) head to Texas to face the Cowboys (1-1) so Carolina is definitely in the corner of Dallas. A Tampa Bay loss doesn’t affect their NFC South division record but the Panthers and Bucs will be even at one up and two down with only Atlanta the team to catch.
Not many thought the Buccaneers would be a title contender as early as this year with a new coach, staff and many new players but they have been competitive so far and could lasso the Cowboys if quarterback Tony Romo plays like Cam Newton on Thursday. Could it happen? Yes. Will it happen? No. How ‘bout them Cowboys?
The one game that will peak the interest of Panthers Nation will start just after 4:00 p.m. Eastern when Atlanta (2-0) fly out to San Diego and take on the surprising 2-0 Chargers. The Lightning Bolts have wins over the Raiders and Titans but the Falcons are a bird of a different color.
Atlanta has a big win on their résumé in 2012 when they corralled Peyton Manning and the Broncos at home and their other win came in Kansas City against the Chiefs (who have the toughest task against an NFC South opponent this week in the Saints). But the Falcons were just 4-4 on the road last year and that bodes well for the Chargers for their future and the Panthers in the short term.
If QB Matty Ice, aka Matt Ryan, doesn’t melt under the California sun and the Chargers 15th ranked pass defense and Philip Rivers guides his fifth-ranked offense (60 points in two games) the way they have the last two weeks this is a potential shootout that could last way into the early evening.
If the early games go the way Panthers players and fans would like, the late one will have everyone breaking out the Rolaids.
Best case scenario the Panthers would be tied for second one game out of first. Worst case? How about last place, a fragile quarterback and some people dusting off shovels for a potential early burial.
Root. Root. Root, indeed.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.