Panthers Playoff Bound
January 1, 2015
I spoke a month ago in these pages on what it would take for the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South. Carolina had to win out in its final three games and New Orleans had to lose a game somewhere. Since the Panthers were 4-8-1 at the time, it seemed far-fetched. Well, everything I wrote took place and Carolina will host a playoff game this Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Panthers sealed the deal on Sunday. Behind an opportunistic defense that came up with numerous big plays, Carolina dominated the Atlanta Falcons by a 34-3 count.
Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns and Carolina recorded six sacks, leading the Panthers to the victory and the NFC South title. Carolina finished the regular season with a 7-8-1 mark and is enjoying its first back-to-back playoff seasons in franchise history. The Panthers have won four straight, but still they are the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record since 2010, when Seattle was 7-9. For those of you who remember the 2010 playoffs, the Seahawks won their home playoff game that season.
Cam Newton led a Carolina offense that did not commit a single turnover. Newton completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The game was pretty much over at the half. Carolina dominated the first quarter, running for 105 yards and holding the ball almost 12 minutes. The Panthers led only 10-3 before the defense stretched the lead with Harper’s interception return. On Atlanta’s next possession, Roddy White fumbled following a catch when hit by linebacker Adarius Glanton. Thomas Davis picked up the loose ball and returned the ball to the Atlanta 9. Newton’s touchdown run seconds later pushed the lead to 24-3.
Carolina vs. Arizona
Who would have thought, during the Panthers’ six game winless streak during the middle portion of the season, that the team would be hosting a playoff game? The Arizona Cardinals will be in town Saturday night. The Cardinals were one of the hottest teams through the first three-quarters of the season until being hit hard with injuries at quarterback. They enter the playoffs with four losses in their final six games. The Panthers finished as one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winning their final four games. If you’re a believer in momentum, the Panthers have the edge. Carolina also has recent history of finishing seasons strong. Did you know that the Panthers improved to 15-3 in December games since Rivera was hired in 2011.
Carolina clearly has a big edge at the quarterback position. Cam Newton is playing at a highly efficient level of late and is getting healthier. Arizona has been a mess at quarterback since Carson Palmer was lost for the season in Week 10 and backup Drew Stanton suffered a knee injury in Week 15. Ryan Lindley started the Cardinals’ final two games, both losses.
Panthers’ Cam Newton in action
I expect a low-scoring game on Saturday. The matchup pits two of the better defenses in the NFL. The Cardinals have been solid all season, ranking fourth in points allowed heading into the regular-season finale. The Panthers have come on strong of late. They have been a top-10 unit over the final nine games, a span of time coinciding with the insertion of cornerback Bene Benwikere and safety Tre Boston into the starting lineup.
Carolina also has some luck going for it. Despite going 7-8-1, the Panthers drew an opponent that doesn’t have a legitimate NFL quarterback. Since Palmer went down in Week 10, the Cardinals have had the worst offense in football. They finished 3-4 and scored only 87 points over their final seven games behind Stanton and Lindley. For those reasons, I am going with Carolina to win a close, low scoring game.
Harbaugh to Michigan
If you are a Michigan football fan, how can you not be ecstatic about Jim Harbaugh taking over the program.
You have multiple reasons to be excited. Harbaugh built Stanford into a national power largely out of nothing. Stanford was a far more difficult reclamation job than Michigan is, even now.
Jim Harbaugh goes to Michigan
You have to like that Harbaugh has NFL experience, and that is what high-level recruits want more than anything. They want a coach who can provide them with a path to the NFL. Kind of like Nick Saban does at Alabama.
You have to like that Harbaugh is a prideful man. You know he will feel immense loyalty to his alma mater. That will lend itself to a rekindled program that has lost its luster.
The hire is also good for the Big Ten. You know Harbaugh will not like the way Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer talks down Michigan. I see the rivalry between the two schools manifesting itself again and I think you can count on Harbaugh and Meyer not getting along too well.
Football, again, will finally became interesting again up north.