The Panthers are a team that performs better flying below the radar and so far they’ve done an impressive job of proving the preseason pundits wrong. After a couple of squeakers they lost to a Vikings team that was desperate to save their season and smacked around two rebuilding teams in Atlanta and KC. It makes our record look good, but beating a horrible Chiefs team just isn't something worth crowing about.
The next three week stretch will better reflect just what kind of team the Panthers are. Carolina is playing Tampa this weekend, which is a rivalry game they'll have no trouble getting psyched for. With the quarterback situation and the fact that Gruden seems to be afraid to throw it downfield this season, I think that this game won’t be as close as some think it will be. New Orleans the next week will prove to be a tough out, but they don't have the same mojo as a couple of years ago.
Before I sink too much hope in Carolina’s turnaround, I want to see how they do against (drum roll, please)...Arizona. I want to see how our secondary reacts to a primarily vertical passing game and whether our offense can keep up if the game turns into a shooting match. Arizona has all the makings of being a dangerous trap game after back-to-back division battles.
So far the Panthers’ schedule has been loaded with teams with a “run-first” philosophy. One thing our defensive line has not had is the chance to do is flex their muscles against a team like the Cards. Our stats show that we can stop the run, however does our secondary have the legs to cover the pass through an entire game? Arizona has big, physical receivers getting the ball from a rejuvenated Kurt Warner. Their defense is better than we think. This is no gimme.
After this game, Carolina is perched to be potentially 7-1 at the halfway point. If Carolina wins the next three games should they then be considered among the NFL’s elite or are they just beneficiaries of an easy schedule? Will the easier schedule leave them with enough gas in the tank to make a Superbowl run? What do you think?