After a 4-1 start, the Panthers have dropped two consecutive games and have fallen to 2nd in the NFC South. As the Saints moved into the division lead after winning their fourth consecutive game on the road against Green Bay, the Falcons walloped by the Patriots, and the Bucs losing a close one in Buffalo, Carolina is now a half-game behind the New Orleans and only a half-game ahead of Atlanta.
|New Orleans Saints||4||2||.667||171||133||38||6.3||2.8||9.1||9.1||0.0|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2||4||.333||145||151||-6||-1.0||-1.0||-2.0||4.8||-6.8|
Turnovers and uninspired offensive play now leaves Carolina wondering if their 4-1 start was authentic as they chase a surging Saints. New Orleans lead remains slim, but the nature of Carolina’s loss to the Bears and the fact the Saints beat down the Panthers in Carolina, makes the hill steeper than just a half-game climb. Carolina blew an opportunity against a Bears team they should have easily beaten to hold on to the divisional lead, but instead they forced into a difficult position as they go divisional game stretch where they play the Bucs then the Falcons.
The unceremonious fall from first was enough for the odds-makers to favor the Buccaneers as the Panthers head to Tampa Bay as 2-point underdogs. The line suggest that many Carolina’s offensive struggles last week weren’t a fluke and could be problematic again when facing a Bucs team with their backs against the wall after losing three straight. The Bucs aren’t a bad team either. They lost by only three in Buffalo last week after mounting an admirable comeback against a tenacious Bills defense. Tampa Bay will be fighting for their lives against the Panthers, who also have now found themselves struggling with the adversity of injury, poor play, and an inability to find ways to win. Carolina has their work cut out for them.
The Panthers are fortunate to be where they are in the division. Last week, Carolina moved into sole control of first after a loss to the Eagles because the Falcons blew a 17-point lead against the Miami Dolphins. New Orleans stayed close on their heels with a win over the Lions, but Carolina remained a half-game up. If the Falcons had won last week, Carolina would be 3rd in the division as they started throwing down with divisional opponents.
The Bucs won’t be looking to Carolina any favors and Atlanta in similar situation to the Panthers. At 3-3, Atlanta has squandered their share of opportunities. Now facing a divisional stretch, Carolina is going to have to win to stick around. The Panthers offense is going to have to find a spark and pull out a gritty win on the road as they face consecutive opponents, like themselves, who can’t afford to lose.
By Tony Dunn
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