I enjoyed last week, knowing we were in the playoffs with a bye week and watching the other teams fight it out. I didn't really care which teams we would face, but of course did have preferences. Arizona was on top of that list, that is until Monday.
Now knowing we will face the Arizona Cardinals this weekend I believe my self preservation kicked in. Yesterday, I had this feeling of impending doom. As Jaxon pointed out the last time we faced Arizona we had to make a comeback being down 17-3 into the 3rd quarter. At which point we scored finally scored three touchdowns. I also vividly remember Charles Godfrey's heads-up play in stopping the fake field goal that would have resulted in a Arizona 1st down right before half-time.
Then, seeing the Cardinals take care of business against Atlanta only added to my pessimism. Their defense stepped up and played like the game mattered and of course their offense is always lethal. They even found their running game. Giving the ball back to Edgerrin James has breathed new life into their ground game. It doesn't hurt that he's probably fairly fresh after seeing very limited carries for several weeks.
Our defense hasn't been the same down the stretch. In week 7, our defense was ranked 3rd overall and 2nd against the pass. We know rank 18th and 16th respectively. The last two games we were ahead and couldn't put the game away, although we did pull it out against the Saints.
So now I've had an extra day to ponder this uncoming game and the immidate feeling of impending doom has subsided. I won't say this game will be easy, but here are several reason I expect our Panthers to win:
Jake Delhomme: With all the talk here lately about Jake, I figured I start here. At times Jake can be a liability to the Panthers, but definitely in the playoffs I'm happy he's on our team. I'm right between the opinions of Jamie and Jaxon on this one, yet lean more towards Jaxon. Jake Delhomme is a key part of the Panthers offense, replace him and this team is no where near as dangerous (see last season). He bring many intangible to the table that can't be measured. He's a clutch player and will step up to the challenge.
Health: This is why the bye week is so important. We've been missing several key players over the last two weeks as well. This extra week should have allowed them to heal. Provided Kalil and Otah get back on the field our offense should be clicking, and Kemo has been missed stuffing the middle.
Run Defense: Our boys have had an extra week to get healthy and prepare for time game. They fought hard all season to get to this point. Early in the season our run D was tough but had gotten a little lax down the stretch. I expect the playoffs to provide plenty of motivation to get back to form. While the Cardinals are not a running team, Edgerrin can be dangerous. Yet, I expect our front seven will be able to hand him.
Offensive line: Again, injuries here are key, but provided we are back to full strength, our running game has been steller with a healthy front line. The Cardinals will have to sell out against the run or either/both Williams and Stewart will have a field day. The first time we faced them our O-line wasn't completely healthy and hadn't hit their stride. That has now changed and will play a big part in securing the win.