Don’t Look Now But…


The Carolina Panthers are one game away from the mid-point of their season.  What follows is a bye week – a chance to rest and get healthy.  It’s also a chance to look ahead at their upcoming schedule.

Meanwhile, we’re looking back at history.

Already, this team has earned a 5-2 record.  Included have been impressive wins over San Diego, Kansas City and New Orleans.  Things are going well.  The question is:  How well will it go the rest of the way?

In their short history, the Panthers have started a season with at least a 5-2 record three times.  The ultimate results in each of those seasons is interesting.

1996:  Started 5-2.  Followed up that start with two straight losses to Philadelphia and Atlanta.  The team then went 7-0 the rest of the way to finish 12-4.  In the playoffs, a win over Dallas at home led to a date with Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.  The Panthers would be on the short end of a 30-13 score.

2003:  Started 6-2.  Then came a 5-3 record down the stretch.  Their 11-5 record was good enough to qualify them for the playoffs as the NFC South division winners by three games over New Orleans.  They were the third seed.  Wins over Dallas, St. Louis and Philadelphia would put them in Super Bowl XXXVIII where they lost to New England 32-29.

2005:  Started 7-2.  The end of the season wasn’t as strong as the team went 4-3 down the stretch.  A record of 11-5 was good enough for second in the division and a wild card berth in the playoffs.  Victories over the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears put them in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years in the Great Northwest.  The Seattle Seahawks were the victors 34-14, however.

The 2008 version of the Carolina Panthers has some things in common with at least two of those teams besides a win-loss record – an emerging ground game that utilizes two strong running backs, Jake Delhomme calling the signals and a solid defense.

How they respond Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals in yet another solid test can help determine their fate.  A 6-2 record going to the bye week would at the very minimum give them a share of first place in the division.

The truth is, the Panthers control their own destiny down the stretch.  A strong showing the rest of the way including games versus all three division rivals, would give them a division title and a sure spot in the playoffs.

The rest of the NFC is beating up on each other.  At the end of week eight, no one in the conference will have more than 6 wins.  That 6-2 mark would make this team an instant contender.

The 2008 Carolina Panthers have a record in common with earlier versions from years past that experienced success.  Whether or not they share more than that will be determined over the next ten Sundays.