One thing that has been true of the Panthers as long as I can remember is their pendulum swings, from good to bad, and back to good again. Long losing streaks, some long winning streaks. When they've been bad, they've been really bad. And when they've been good, they've been very good.
A lot of excuses could be made for this year's team. They are coming off a great year. Not many teams put two great years together. Maybe the Patriots or the Broncos. But not usually the Carolina Panthers. Last year's team, though they started slow (1-3), peeled off 10 wins in a row, and 11 out of 12, to finish 12-4, win the NFC South, and get a home playoff game. They ended up losing to the 49'ers, but overall, it was a fine year.
This year started out somewhat different. The Panthers came out, looking poised to continue the good fortune of the 2013-14 team. They won their first two games, and it looked as if they might put another long winning streak together. They stunk at home in a blowout loss to the Steelers, then lost to the Ravens in Baltimore. After barely pulling out a win vs. the Bears, they went to Cincinnati and managed a tie in a heartbreaker. Still, they were 3-2-1 and in contention for first place... and then the bottom fell out.
Six games later, the Panthers only had the similar misfortunes of the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints to pin their hopes on a playoff berth. Division title? It didn't seem likely at 3-8-1. Then something strange happened. Several players got healthy that had previously been sidelined with injuries. The defense came to life, beginning to force turnovers and sacks. And our QB, Cam Newton, began to engineer the team on scoring drives when we needed them. And even with a losing record, the Panthers managed to pull out a second straight NFC South division title, and another home playoff berth.
We play the Arizona Cardinals today in the NFC wild card playoffs. A win will send us on the road to play either the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks. Both of these teams are tough opponents. But first, we must get past the Cardinals, a team that was undefeated in the early season, only to lose two quarterbacks and a lot of momentum along the way.
Could this be Carolina's "Cinderella" season? Perhaps a run to the NFC Championship, or even the Super Bowl? Today will start the mysterious ball rolling. If our Panthers win today, I believe their momentum will hit fever pitch. Only then will we know if they can knock off the mighty Seahawks or Packers, and make it to the royal ball game.
Saturday, January 3rd
NFC Wild Card Playoffs