Steve Smith and the Panthers have won two straight and appear to have found some offensive consistency (finally). Will it continue? (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Panthers at Buccaneers
An unquestionably big game for the Carolina Panthers. For the first time in what feels like five years, the Panthers have a little momentum heading into the middle of the season. They’ve won three of four, averaging 34 points in those wins and a winning margin of 38, 25, and 15. Have they beaten a good team yet this year? Well, no.
Regardless, I think the Panthers are a legit Wildcard threat if they can get a win tonight in Tampa. Based on current standings and what we know about the NFC, the Wildcard race will essentially boil down to Chicago, Detroit, and Carolina. San Francisco is a lock for the first Wildcard berth. The Eagles, Rams, and Cardinals are fatally flawed. The Falcons and Redskins are still lurking but appear dead in the water. The playoffs are certainly in reach for the Panthers.
High expectations and hype haven’t been a problem for the Ron River/Cam Newton Panthers. Meeting those expectations has been. Last year the Panthers stumbled early, rallied late and missed the playoffs. Hopes were high heading into this season before they again stumbled to a 1-3 start behind questionable coaching and a struggling offense. The offense appears to have figured something out over recent weeks and Rivera has shown a little more aggression in his coaching style, especially when it comes to unleashing Newton.
Given their schedule, it won’t be easy for Carolina to reach the postseason for the first time in half a decade. Then again, the Jay Cutler injury and Jekyll and Hyde Lions should improve Carolina’s chances. But first they must win tonight. PANTHERS If I were Charles Barkley; Panthers -6.5