Its been a while since I've contributed anything worthwhile here (some would say that I've yet to contribute anything worthwhile), so I thought I'd try to take an in-depth look at the rest of the 2011 schedule. This is nothing more than a prognostication, so take it for what its worth...
This is a game the Panthers have to win. They are starting John Beck at QB. He isn't very good. Their running game has been surprisingly tame for a Mike Shanahan offense. I feel like we can control their ground game well enough to put the game in the hands of Beck. If we do this, we should win. On the other side of the ball--I have a lot of respect for Washington's defense. They are are veteran group. When you watch them play, you can hear them too. That's a sign of a good defense. I expect it to be low scoring.
Win. Panthers 17, Redskins 10.
This is the second straight week we face a team at home who is on their second QB so far this year. Another opportunity to win. Obviously the player to watch is Adrian Peterson. There is no stopping him. Not with our defense. If we can hold him to under 125 yards we will win. Ponder may move the ball a little, but we will keep them out of the endzone. On offense, we should be able to put up some points on an aging, depleted Vikings defense. Steve Smith typically has his way with the Vikings secondary.
Win. Panthers 31, Vikings 20.
Our third straight home game. This Tennessee team is a tough nut to crack. They are good defensively, but as he has been for most of his career, QB Matt Hasslebeck has been erratic. One week they lose to Jacksonville, and the next week they beat the doors off of a very good Baltimore Ravens team. Chris Johnson has been disappointing so far, but there are people who attach his ineffectiveness to his holdout. If that is the case, he should have played himself into game shape by week 10. Again, if we can hold him to under 150 total yards, we have a chance to win. Offensivly, we will struggle against a stingy Tennessee defense who does not allow many yards. Hopefully by week 10 we have improved our yards-to-points ratio, which at the moment is very poor. Expect a squeaker.
Win. Panthers 20, Titans 19.
Yikes. This game is arguably the toughest game remaining on our schedule. I think the Lions will come back to earth a little bit as the season wears on--as evidenced by their loss at home to a solid 49ers team. On defense, we should be able to contain their running game (should they even try to use it), but I can't see a scenario where we're able to slow down Calvin Johnson. I have a feeling he is going to make some ridiculous catches against us. His last reception in this one will likely be the straw that broke the Camel's back. On offense, we should be able to throw the ball around the yard. Yes they are tough up-front, so I don't expect our running backs to find much success in the ground game, but the 49ers showed us that they will still give up big plays in the passing game. If we were at home I'd like our chances. On Ford Field, not so much.
Loss. Panthers 24, Lions 31.
This team is being punished for their sins. For years they had Peyton Manning to act as a crutch in order to cover for most of their deficiencies. Defensively they are a scrappy bunch, but they give up way too many big plays in the air, and are too small to shut-down the run. I could see Cam having a very, very big game, particularly on the ground. This might be the week he goes off for 100+ rushing yards. We should be clicking in the run game, and with Cam being forced to step up and run more often (due to the pressure from Freeney and Mathis) we could set a new franchise mark for rushing yards in a single game. We control the game and win easily.
Win. Panthers 27, Colts 14.
at Tampa Bay:
This game is going to be tough. It always is. Tampa's Offensive Coordinator, Greg Olson (no relation), has had his way with our defense in recent meetings. Tampa has been able to make big plays on special teams and in the air, and sprinkle in enough successful runs to control the tempo and the clock. We will have to be very efficient in turning good drives into point--something we have struggled with so far. If we can find some success on the ground against this defense, we might make it interesting. But something tells me that we will be out-coached, and we'll look back at this game as being the worst game of the season--as often the game in Tampa is.
Loss. Panthers 16, Bucs 27.
Time for revenge. Its only week 14, so Atlanta will be gunning for a win here. We have been far more successful against the Falcons when we're at home. I expect this trend to continue. Michael Turner will likely be nicked up, so we'll actually stand a chance in this one. If we can limit the mistakes we made on offense the first time we played them, we have a chance to put up 30+ points. If we do that, at home, we win.
Win. Panthers 31, Falcons 26.
I don't know what to make of the Houston Texans. Some weeks they look unstoppable and other weeks they beat themselves with penalties and turnovers in big spots. They just lost their best defensive player for the remainder of the season in OLB Mario Williams. That should allow Cam to throw the ball under little duress. This will come down to the status of Arian Foster. If he is healthy and ready to go, I don't expect us to be up to the task of shutting him down. So far this year he has not been healthy. But by week 15 he might be back to full strength. I have a feeling that Foster will be limited or out all together. Because of this, Matt Schaub makes a critical error on a potential game-winning drive.
Win. Panthers 23, Texans 20.
Despite getting them back at home, this will be a tough game. Cam will make some mistakes against their seasoned secondary, and we will have to rely on our RBs in critical moments. I have a feeling Tampa's front seven will be banged up by week 16, so we should able to run the ball fairly well. On defense we will still struggle with the balanced Bucs attack. Josh Freeman will make a couple of big plays, but someone will step up on defense and have a couple of interceptions. We have to win this game to garner some much needed respect inside the division. I think we will.
Win. Panthers 27, Bucs 24.
at New Orleans:
The Saints have the easiest remaining schedule in the division. They also have a two game lead. This sets up a throw away game in week 17. No sense in analyzing this one...if we can't beat Chase Daniels and their second-teamers then we got prollums.
Win. Panthers 33, Saints 9.
So there you have it. 10 games left. 8 wins and 2 losses. And a heavy dose of homerism. If this comes to fruition, we will be 9-7. Not sure that's good enough for a wild card spot, but we would roll into the 2012 season with some serious confidence and momentum.
Happy painting and God bless my friends.