After the Carolina Panthers’ devastating and embarrassing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football, a 6-3 Panthers had four games before the final divisional stretch in the last three weeks of the season. All Carolina had to do was go into the first game against the NFC Powerhouse New Orleans Saints with at least a 9-4 record, so they could afford to drop one if necessary, but that didn’t happen.
This team has lost every ounce of fire and passion after losing five straight games; now they’re expected to go into New Orleans and put up a fight when they couldn’t even beat the hapless Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions and other teams that are usually irrelevant in any kind of playoff talk. Call me a pessimist, but the question isn’t “Will the Panthers lose this game?” but instead, “How bad will they lose this game?”
I hope the Panthers do prove me wrong and make me look like an imbecile for counting my team out. However, it will take a LOT in order to humiliate the Saints on prime-time television, especially with the way things are going in Carolina right now. It’s clear as day that not all of the players are into it as much as a guy like Thomas Davis or Cam Newton is; and I’m willing to bet that deep down, even the coaches have checked out of this season.
The only thing for Panthers fans to be happy about is the possibility of having an amazing off-season under new ownership. Fans have full faith that the beloved owner, David Tepper, will truly change the culture of this organization moving forward.
In the meantime, there’s still a game this week. There’s also a shot for the Panthers to still make the playoffs if they can pull off the major upset. So, who’s hot and who’s cold heading into this week’s game?
Hot: Luke Kuechly
Luke Kuechly has been a silent killer this year. Due to the bad performance by the defense as a unit, you haven’t heard much about Kuechly. One play that stood out to fans last week was the Jarvis Landry catch where the receiver was surrounded by almost every defensive back on the team and none of them could make the tackle, but Kuechly came off of the screen to make a touchdown-saving tackle.
Earlier this season, I was huge on rookie Donte Jackson being the defensive MVP of this team, but recently he hasn’t been playing like it. Kuechly has continued to make plays over and over again just as he’s been doing all of his career. He currently is the defensive MVP of this team and it’s not even close right now.
With this aging defense, hopefully guys like Thomas Davis, Mike Adams and Julius Peppers retire. In addition to that; Captain Munnerlyn, Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler and Mario Addison need to be given their walking papers. It’s time for a complete rebuild on the defensive side of the ball. Luke does not deserve this.
Hot Scale: Eminem’s bars in 8-mile
Hot: Christian McCaffrey
Easily the best running back the Panthers have ever had, Christian McCaffrey is having one explosive season. According to Pro Football Reference, he is the third player since 1950 to have 700+ receiving and rushing yards with five or more touchdowns. This season, he needs just 74 yards rushing and 299 yards to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving this season. I could run down all of these numbers, but if you’re a Panthers fan or anyone with two good eyes and a football mind, you know how dangerous and explosive he is.
“C-Mac” is a game changer and without him, this team wouldn’t have even gotten six of the wins they did get. Unfortunately, his best season, along with Cam’s is being hindered by terrible defense and offensive line play, which has cost the Panthers games this season. Last year, McCaffrey had stellar games against the Saints and I’m sure he’s looking to replicate those performances.
Hot Scale: Ron Rivera’s seat
Hot: Ian Thomas
Wow. Just wow. Although the Panthers lost, it’s hard to watch last week’s game and not be impressed by Ian Thomas’ performance. It is mid-boggling that Chris Manhertz was ahead of this guy on the depth chart (which is why Rivera needs to be fired.) Thomas looked like a younger, faster, but just as reliable version of Greg Olsen out there. With Greg possibly looking at retirement, the future will be in good hands as long as Thomas keeps up these kinds of stellar performances.
Personally, I believe that Olsen should stay another year just to be an on-field coach for Thomas. He has a ton of knowledge that he can hand off to his heir-apparent in order to groom him for the starting role. Plus, when healthy, Olsen has a lot he can offer on the field as well-, but it shouldn’t take away from Thomas’ snaps. I know Thomas’ grandmother was happy watching last week’s game. I hope he gives her tons of more reasons to smile as his time in Carolina continues.
Cold: Everyone not named Christian McCaffrey, Luke Kuechly, DJ Moore, Ian Thomas and Curtis Samuel
This Panthers team needs a real “Come to Jesus” moment if they want any kind of chance in the playoffs. As much as fans love Cam Newton, it’s no secret that he’s fighting through a shoulder injury and it’s affecting the way he plays the game in addition to the play-calling. We saw this a few weeks ago in Tampa when every time he got hit, he got up off of the ground wincing in pain. It pains me to say this, but if the Panthers lose this game, it may be time to shut down Newton for the year, so the Panthers can focus on making a run next year with a better defense, o-line and maybe a receiver or two more because there’s a high chance Funchess, Smith, and Byrd won’t be with the team next year.
This coaching is terrible as well. There is no reason that the Bengals got 51 put on their heads and they fired their defensive coordinator the next day, but we continue to get mauled by average quarterbacks and Eric Washington still has a job. In any job, when you underperform and can’t complete tasks, you’re usually let go. Nobody cares if you’re a nice guy or not. Any owner would take a jerk as a coach that wins rings than someone who can make everyone happy but can’t coach back to back winning seasons.
That’s why the New England Patriots are as great as they are. Everything they do is strictly business, discipline and execution. If Josh Gordon dropped four passes like Funchess did, he’d be on the bench. Instead, he was given the starting role this past week (although it was in name only, but it’s the principle.) If Bill Belichick has as many under .500 seasons as Rivera has, he would’ve been fired a long time ago. They don’t care about feelings, and we saw this when Malcolm Butler was benched in the Super Bowl for off-field antics. The Panthers need to conduct business like that, because if they don’t they’ll be another version of the Dallas Cowboys with a different (but better) shade of blue.
Cold Scale: Falling through a frozen lake.