Updated Dec. 23
We always talk about the fine line in the NFL between good and bad, champs and chumps.
The Carolina Panthers might be living that right now.
The Panthers were a 50-yard field goal away from earning the top seed in the NFC Sunday night, which would have meant the NFC playoffs had to go through Charlotte.
If John Kasay makes the kick at the end of regulation -- tough in those windy conditions -- the Panthers defeat the New York Giants and take the top seed. Kasay missed, the Giants won in overtime and now the Panthers might be staring at the wild-card route.
If Carolina loses to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and the Atlanta Falcons beat the St. Louis Rams at home, the Panthers will be the fifth seed in the playoffs, which means a road game at Arizona while Atlanta wins the division and gets that coveted bye.
If the Panthers defeat the Saints, they win the NFC South and take the second seed and get a bye.
I was all set to pencil the Panthers into the second spot in my CBSSports.com Power Rankings late Sunday before the Giants rallied to win that game. The Panthers played their butts off -- for nothing.
You can bet the Panthers will get a full dose of Sean Payton's bag of tricks in New Orleans. Drew Brees is 402 yards away from breaking Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards and the Saints are playing for nothing.
How much fun will they have?
Not only that, but the Panthers are playing a second consecutive road game and put an awful lot into beating the Giants. What will they have left?
This is when coaches like John Fox earn their money. Getting his team back focused will be a challenge.
I saw the Saints-Panthers game live the first time they played. The Panthers beat up the Saints, mugging the outside receivers, forcing Brees to pull the ball down a lot. They better hope to do the same. The only problem is the Saints are much better offensively at home than they are on the road.
This is not a good situation for the Panthers. A loss and all the momentum they had heading into the fourth quarter of that game with the Giants, when it looked like a No. 1 seed was theirs, will be gone. The road to the Super Bowl would be a tough one with a loss, and a disappointment.
Coaches always talk cliché-speak about one play can be the difference in winning it all. That missed field goal by Kasay just might be that play for the Panthers.
What a fine line it is indeed.