Expert picks Carolina Panthers: Part Two

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Dec 7, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) is tackled by Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) in the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Question:  What gave the Panthers the edge over the other teams in the division?

Answer: The NFC South will likely come down to a two-team race between the Panthers and the New Orleans Saints as the Atlanta Falcons just don’t play good enough defense and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a long, long way to go. Carolina should assume it will beat the Buccaneers twice, the Falcons at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, and, if Carolina can maybe win at Atlanta in Week 16, like they did last season (34-3), then it very well could come down to the thinnest of margins and the games between the Panthers and Saints in Weeks 3 and 14. The Week 3 game is in Charlotte, and it will be imperative for Carolina to win this not only because of the mathematical reality of needing the game but also from the standpoint of “not losing” it as to have to wait all the way until that second leg in Week 14 at the Superdome in New Orleans for some revenge. This exact scenario happened last year with Carolina exacting that revenge in New Orleans in Week 13 (41-10) after losing 28-10 in Week 9. So Carolina is confident it can win in the Big Easy and from a gambling standpoint the Panthers are 11-3 Against the Point Spread in their last 14 games in New Orleans and may have a little higher expectations for the season than do Drew Brees and the Saints heading into 2015 after making it to the Playoffs last season, winning against the Cardinals and then losing to the NFC Champion Seahawks in Seattle. And honestly, probably the biggest “little” thing that I think gives Carolina the edge overall this season (in the context of winning the NFC South) is that the Saints traded TE Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks. Graham not only caught footballs and blocked for New Orleans, but was a great clubhouse leader and one of the hearts of the team and a fan favorite. You just don’t replace a guy like Jimmy Graham. But the Panthers having to play Graham when playing the Seahawks—while the Saints don’t—may ironically end up evening that all out, and all in all, New Orleans has a pretty easy looking schedule. Maybe the Cats will have to go 6-0 in the NFC South to win the division but with strength at Head Coach, QB, RB, WR and on Defense heading in, they just might be able to. It will be key for them to avoid major injuries, continue to look for and prioritize getting another good Tackle, and, for me, winning that game against the Saints at Home in Week 3 will be absolutely huge this time around and a 4-0 start before the Panthers head to Seattle in Week 6 is very possible.

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Well, there you have it – Stott’s reasoning behind the Panthers making the playoffs for the 2015 season. I know the Saints’ fans will argue about Stott’s reasoning the Panthers have the edge, but you have to agree – Graham is no longer making plays in the Big Easy.