Sometime in the last couple of weeks on the C3 Podcast, our own Mel Mayock brought up quite an interesting conundrum: Winning the NFC South and locking ourselves in at pick #21 at best vs not winning and getting a late top-ten pick.
Two obvious sides present themselves on this one. Mel is of the mind (and I tend to agree) that winning the division would be best, and that an early draft pick doesn't guarantee results. He gave several examples of higher picks not playing well, but I reminded him that rookies don't always have a gangbusters rookie season - even the better rookies. It takes a few years with some rookies to see them reach their potential, but I see what he's saying.
The counter-argument to that would be "Okay, then...if we don't win the division and pick for instance 8th overall, we should trade back to the early 20's and get a better guy?"
Of course, things are never that cut and dry...in this case, we'd have to find a willing trade partner that has a specific player targeted and gives us a nice mini-bounty of picks in return. That's actually not such a bad idea since we've got multiple holes to fill, but in doing so we'd likely miss out on a top rookie left tackle.
Mel pointed out that this past year's high left tackle picks aren't playing so well. I say, remember they are rookies and they need time to adjust. We have no further to look than our own Trai Turner, thought by many to be able to "come right in and start from day one." Well, he pretty much did that, but disappointed us all until recently where he seems to be putting it all together and I DO expect a "gangbusters" sophomore campaign for him.
Even with all that said (and Mel of course is well aware of everything I have pointed out), an NFL team cannot "tank." EVER!
First, it goes against every NFL player's very nature of competitiveness, and Cam is even more of a competitor than most NFL players. It's like asking an MLB plate-umpire to "miscall" balls and strikes - they can't really do it even if they try. It's so automatic for them to call what they see, to change and go against their nature is silly. Sure, they'll MISS some calls, but that's just being Human. Linemen miss blocks, too. It happens.
Secondly, it would be cheating the fans and that's just as important if not more so. The fans pay good money to go see their team play, and playing poorly in order to lose and get a higher draft pick is a defeatist attitude that would breed resentment towards the entire organization and would be nothing short of scandalous. Goodwill, like trust, takes a lot of time to build and a moment to destroy. To "lose on purpose" would do far more damage in the big picture than any draft pick could begin to balance out....unless somehow we got ahold of a 21 yr old Bo Jackson clone or some such. Even then, the Carolina Panthers would be starting at square one all over again, trying to re-build trust with the fans, league, players, and coaches.
As it turns out, I think the point will be moot because the New Orleans Saints are in the driver's seat now and if they beat Atlanta this weekend and we lose OR if the Saints beat Atlanta in New Orleans and then beat those dominant Tampa Bay Bucs in Florida the following week, they win the division.
Well, Sean Payton and Drew Brees seem to have their team collected and with two weak opponents, I'd be very surprised if they lost either game. For the sake of argument, however, imagine what happens if Carolina DOES win the NFC South. Here's what happens (with today's playoff picture otherwise):
- The Panthers would not only get a playoff berth as NFC South Champions, we'd be HOSTING a game. That's the rule, and it's a rule I like: Win your division first and be rewarded with a HOME playoff game. I'm fine with that even if a team goes 4-12 or 5-11 and wins their division. How can you say that, you ask? It's the traditional formula for building a team. You win your division first, period, end of sentence. No "if you like your doctor.." lies; it's set in stone.
- We would be hosting the Seattle Seahawks - a team we have lost to twice in two seasons, but have played well, including a 13-9 loss in week 8, and playoff teams with non-winning records aren't an automatic loser in the playoffs, either. I recall the same hullabaloo when these SAME Seattle Seahawks won THEIR division - at 7-9 when Matt Hasselbeck was their QB - and they defeated the New Orleans Saints, shutting up THAT argument fast.
- Remember the year of the David Tyree Helmet Catch? If memory serves, that was the year the NY Giants were horrid until they got hot late in the season, made the playoffs at 9-7, and won the Super Bowl over an 18-0 New England Patriots team.
Do I think the Panthers could win the Super Bowl this season if they get a playoff berth? Hardly. We really do have some glaring holes on the offensive line and defensive backfield as well as NO Greg Hardy - STILL! However, if the defense gets hot and continues its late-season toughening, they could possibly keep us in games and with a break or two that goes our way in each game, well, anything is possible.
The Panthers would also make NFC South history if we won the division since we'd be the first and only team to win it in consecutive seasons.
And some still want to fire Ron Rivera after this season ends?
Shame on you!!