The Carolina Panthers find themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Not only are they in the playoffs but they are also legit Super Bowl contenders to boot and could beat any team in the NFC. You say they wouldn’t be able to go into Seattle and beat the Seahawks? The Arizona Cardinals just went into Seattle and did just that and the Panthers have a better defense than the Cardinals do.
Heading into this season, Ron Rivera was on the hot seat for some strange reason as nobody wanted to show patience for a coach only entering his third year. Yet as we see every year, some coach on the hot seat turns his team around and has them playoff bound. Ron Rivera is that coach, but this time may lead the Panthers to more than just a playoff appearance. With a win over the Saints, the Panthers have guaranteed themselves a bye week and nobody in the NFC wants to see a Panthers team coming off a bye. The Panthers boast a 7-1 record at Bank of America Stadium, with a loss I’m sure they would like to have back against the Seattle Seahawks.
I broke down the the five keys necessary for the Carolina Panthers to reach Metlife Stadium.
5. Defense has to improve on the road: While the Panthers boast a near perfect record in Charlotte, they are just so so on the road. While they are likely to have at least one home playoff game, there is a good chance they will have to go to Seattle for the NFC Championship game. Their championship defense has given up 125 points on the road, three of which were decided by less than five points and includes giving up 31 points to the New Orleans Saints. While only surrendering 96 points in 8 home games. This must improve in order to advance to Metlife Stadium.
4. Other Receivers must step up in Steve Smith’s absence: A bye week will allow Smith some recovery and may get him ready for the divisional round game. The question becomes, what if he isn’t ready? Brandon Lafell is not a number one receiver, Ted Ginn is just a return specialist playing receiver while Greg Olsen is the only other threat not named Steve Smith. If the Panthers passing game looks to do any damage, the other receivers must step up and be ready to make plays. If not, it will further show how bad the Panthers need to find Smith’s replacement in the 2014 NFL Draft.
3. Support from the 12th Man: The crowd must be in full support and ready to cheer and scream until they lose their voice. They could see an Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay Packers team to a Chip Kelly offense if any of the lower seeds wins a trip to Seattle. If both Wild Card teams win, then well pending the final seeding, it could be San Fran, New Orleans or even Arizona. All of which have quarterbacks that can easily be taken out of the game if they can’t get in their groove. Force them to use timeouts in order to get inside their head and make things easier for the defense.
2. Run All Day: In case of no Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert will come in handy. As they say in Carolina, ‘Keep Pounding’, is not just a slogan but a way to keep the opposing offenses on the bench. When the Panthers keep Cam Newton’s throwing down while running a bunch, they are very hard to beat. Williams only needs 190 yards to top 1,000 yards rushing on the season and may very well do it against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Tolbert meanwhile has been a solid threat on the ground as well and will keep the time of possession swinging toward the Panthers favor.
1. Cam Newton & Ron Rivera have to be perfect: Each head coach and quarterback are connected and it’s about time Newton and Rivera finally show their potential. For Newton, he took baby steps toward becoming a pocket passer in the game winning drive against the Saints. Rivera’s game plans are coming together and just when it was curtains, Ron took his riverboat and headed toward Playoff City. Newton can not afford any costly mistakes while Rivera can not do anything to hurt the team which means calling the right plays, in the right situation.
Mike Presley is a Division Leader for The Penalty Flag. Mike writes for the racing website www.hardcoreracefans.com during the NASCAR Season. Mike can be contacted via Twitter @mikepresley64.