By Ted Fleming
Call them good. Call them lucky. But after six weeks of the NFL season you can call the Atlanta Falcons good, lucky, and still undefeated. That is bad news for the Carolina Panthers, and quite possibly the rest of the NFC South.
Like the Panthers did in in Week 4, the Oakland Raiders came close to knocking the Falcons off their lofty perch because Matt Bryant dashed their hopes with a late game field goal. As Atlanta heads into their own bye week, they are 6-0 with a cushy 3.5 game lead over the now second place Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who overran the Chiefs on Sunday, and 4.5 on top of Carolina and the New Orleans Saints.
As far as tracking down the division leaders, the Panthers have little to no chance of that happening. Atlanta is firing on all cylinders and if they don’t on any given Sunday they begin to hum a line from a Frank Sinatra standard, “Luck be a lady with me.”
Lady Luck has been kind of missing in action for the Panthers so far, although she briefly popped in when the Saints came to town a few weeks back. But the reliance on providence has never been a replacement for performance, and that is why the team dressed in black and Carolina blue has a few of those black and blue marks on their record.
At 1-4 you might think things are bleak, and a quick look at the remaining schedule gives that impression. While they do not have a division game until November 18, Carolina has a puncher’s chance against Dallas, Chicago, Washington and Denver over the next four weeks. Let’s examine those contests and see if they could emerge from them with an outside chance of making a playoff run.
Vs. COWBOYS (Oct. 21) – Owner Jerry Jones put the onus of a so-far mediocre season on everyone, from the coaches to the players and they came within a wide-left field goal attempt of upsetting a defensive behemoth in the Ravens. They missed a two-point conversion which would have tied the game sending it to overtime although they stayed alive recovering an on-side kick to set up the missed three pointer.
That Cowboys team will be coming to town with a serious chip on their shoulder because they are 2-3 and have the New York Giants waiting for them back in Texas the week after. Dallas will not be looking past the Carolina game so Tony Romo and company will be prepared. PREDICTION: Panthers fall to 1-5.
Vs. BEARS (Oct. 28): Defense, defense, and more defense is Chicago’s mantra, and that will spell trouble for Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina offense. However, the much improved Panthers’ defense could get into Jay Cutler’s head early, taking him out of his game thereby making this a coin-flip.
Cutler’s stats can be impressive, (90/156, 1,209 yards) yet not (7 TD, 7 INT, 78.7 rating, 14 sacks), and that makes him capable but beatable. A fair warning to fans, drink a lot of coffee or Red Bull because this could be a real yawner. PREDICTION: Panthers get upset, go to 2-5.
Vs. REDSKINS (Nov. 4): The team should be called the Washington RG IIIs because as their rookie quarterback goes, so does the team. You can flip a coin and go best 2-of-3, 3-of-5, 51-of-100, etc. and still not be able to figure this one three weeks out much less tomorrow.
Robert Griffin III has gone through his first official NFL concussion and even though he apologized to his teammates that he will not be as reckless, tell that to a defensive end who hits him from the blind side going 100-miles an hour. Will he or won’t he be in the lineup? With RG III out, the Panthers have a shot but don’t bet on that happening. PREDICTION: Panthers drop to 2-6.
Vs. BRONCOS (Nov. 11): The last time the two teams met Jake Delhomme was leading the Panthers to a 30-10 win and their last appearance in the postseason, and he beat that guy from the Bears above. It was one of the reasons why Jay Cutler is where he is now as opposed to being a Bronco for life. Carolina dumped him on his rear three times, picked him once and held him to a paltry 42.4 QBR. That was then, this is now.
This Broncos team isn’t the one guided by Tim Tebow who brought them back from oblivion to play a 17th game last year, they are better if for nothing else, Peyton Manning. While only 2-3 entering their Monday Night Football matchup against the Chargers, Manning is getting into the same mind-meld mode with his receivers like he had all those years in Indianapolis. Beam the Panthers up Scottie. PREDICTION: Not even close, Panthers tumble to 2-7.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.