Do the Carolina Panthers have a chance at winning the NFC South following their win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7?
Ahead of their Week 7 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Carolina Panthers looked like a team bound for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft following a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Then, the New Orleans Saints lost to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football, the Atlanta Falcons were beaten by the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Panthers – nearly two-touchdown underdogs – secured an unlikely success over the Buccaneers.
Carolina’s victory was the first in the post-Matt Rhule era and just the second since November 2021. It was a victory that came about thanks to a great defensive effort along with a strong run game led by D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard.
P.J. Walker, in his second start of the season, completed 16 of 22 pass attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns in what was arguably the best game by a Panthers quarterback since Cam Newton was originally released in 2020.
Following their win over the Buccaneers, the Panthers now sit just one game back from first place in a weak NFC South division. With a statement-like game against the greatest of all time, Tom Brady, could the organization compete for a division title by year’s end?
Could the Carolina Panthers be in contention for the NFC South?
Before the season, it would’ve been outrageous to consider the Panthers as a potential divisional contender due to the expectation that Tampa Bay was the superior team. However, the Super Bowl LV champions have struggled on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, making the south a winnable division for the three other teams in it.
As it stands right now, the Panthers would be in possession of the No. 3 overall selection in next year’s draft. That could turn into a late teen’s pick should Carolina claim first place.
Steve Wilks and his coaching staff put together a solid game plan against Tampa Bay with a heavy dose of the run game that featured Walker having his best game as a starting NFL quarterback, making great throws to all levels of the field and getting the ball out quickly.
Interim defensive coordinator Al Holcomb also put together an exceptional game plan against the Buccaneers’ offense, holding them to three points with stud defensive end Brian Burns showing why he is an untradable asset on an ever-changing roster with one sack and two tackles for loss.
The Panthers displayed a game plan on both sides of the ball that could provide a winning formula for the rest of the season. The team’s morale is the highest it’s been all season long thanks to every player fighting hard for Wilks to win the job long-term.
If they continue to play as they did against Tampa Bay, are the playoffs a serious possibility?
To be honest, the postseason still seems unlikely. Especially with the events that have occurred within the organization over the last two weeks.
Carolina Panthers have a long way to go
When healthy, the Panthers do not have a terrible roster. It features a strong offensive line with a young, but formidable defense. Plus, wide receiver D.J. Moore is the star of the show on offense now that Christian McCaffrey is on the San Francisco 49ers.
Even so, there are concerns with the coaching staff, the sustainability of the offensive game plan, the quarterback situation, and the general consistency overall.
Carolina has not been a great team this year. Sure, they’ve had two great division wins, but poor coaching and inconsistent quarterback play have been big issues and that has yet to be resolved despite their Week 7 victory.
While their schedule is considerably lighter than their first seven weeks, Carolina’s remaining fixtures are still tougher than some people think.
The Falcons have proven to be a well-coached team that fights hard despite a lack of talent. The Bengals are playing great football as of late as they have seemed to rekindle their late-season magic from last year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens all have tough defenses that could give Walker or whoever is the starting quarterback fits. The Seattle Seahawks are playing well-above expectations, too.
Carolina finishes its campaign with road trips to Tampa Bay and New Orleans. It’s hard to imagine Brady and the Buccaneers struggling all season, so a late surge should be expected from the future Hall of Fame quarterback’s team.
A top-three or five draft pick is still in play for the Panthers. It should be expected that this team is to continue competing and fighting hard against tougher competition in the weeks ahead. Though, an NFC South division title may not be entirely realistic for the foreseeable future.