The Carolina Panthers Improbable Path to the Playoffs

Panthers Playoffs

The 2022 Carolina Panthers are one of the rare 2-6 teams that actually have a shot of making the playoffs. Thanks to an atrocious NFC South, the Panthers are just two games out of first and are actually playing some solid football. Carolina didn’t trade away any additional core players at the deadline, which means that they still have an improbable shot at the postseason if they do the following three things.

How the Carolina Panthers Can Still Make the Playoffs

1. Keep P.J. Walker Playing Good Football

P.J. Walker will not win the MVP, and he almost certainly will not turn into Carolina’s long-term answer under center. However, he is playing at a respectable level, which is something Panthers fans haven’t seen in years. As of this posting, Walker has completed 62.5% of his passes for 614 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception while posting a 77.1 PFF grade, good for ninth-best in the league.

Carolina doesn’t have the best roster in the NFL by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a decent amount of talent here. In the past, said talent has not been able to overcome the gaping hole at the quarterback position. Granted, it’s a small sample, but if Walker can continue to play at this level, then the Panthers should be able to put up a fight against just about any team that comes their way.

2. Maintain Strong Defense

This version of P.J. Walker won’t lose you games, but he’s not good enough to singlehandedly win games on a consistent basis. Fortunately, he shouldn’t have to. Despite the 2-6 record, the Panthers actually have an above-average defense that should keep them in plenty of games. Through eight weeks of action, Carolina’s defense ranks 13th in EPA allowed/play and 4th in EPA allowed/rush. This isn’t a fluke either, as the defense has several great players in Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and Jaycee Horn. Again, nobody is saying this unit is the second coming of the 1985 Bears, but they have enough talent to keep games close.

3. Take Advantage of A Favorable Schedule

Every year, there are two or three juggernaut teams that are favored in every game they play. The Carolina Panthers are not one of those teams. Instead, they’ll have to rely on beating inferior opponents and maybe stealing one or two wins from superior teams. Fortunately for the Panthers, the back half of their schedule is remarkably easy.

In their final nine games, the Panthers play the Bengals, Falcons, Ravens, Broncos, Seahawks, Steelers, Lions, Buccaneers, and Saints. Of those contests, only the Ravens and Seahawks seem like clear losses. The Bengals and Buccaneers both have the raw talent to blow the Panthers out of the water, but neither team has played up to their ability thus far in the season. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say the Panthers go 1-3 in those four games.

This gives the Panthers a 3-9 record with five very winnable games left to project. The Panthers should have defeated the Falcons in their first matchup, while the Broncos and Steelers are two of the most offensively inept teams in the league. The Lions have a historically bad defense and the Saints are something of a trainwreck right now. In a division this bad, 8-9 might be enough to earn a playoff spot. So, if the Panthers can take care of business and win all five of the “easy” games, then they just might sneak into the playoffs.