It's week 10 and past the halfway point of the season. For the first time since 2008, the Panthers are in the playoff hunt. If the season ended today, they would be the last team in for the NFC. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the season continues and we face our most competitive competition to date during this next stretch. Here's what helps us outside of what the Panthers do on the field.
Division: Obviously we need to catch the Saints, who currently have a one game lead
Wildcard: Our biggest competition will come from the NFC North and the NFC West, so it helps when the upper teams in those divisions lose.
Seattle (7-1) at Atlanta (2-6)
I tend to root for Seattle, and obviously root against the Falcons. But it actually helps our cause for Seattle to have some losses if the 49ers pass them for the NFC West lead (ditto for the 49ers, more losses on them help our wildcard chances). A Seattle team with equal or more wins than the Panthers would take the wildcard spot since they won the head-to-head match-up. I’d love to see ATL continue to wallow, but them winning doesn't put them back into the playoff picture. Plus it helps slide their draft pick down from the Jake Matthews/Anthony Barr range (muwhahaha).
Detroit (5-3) at Chicago (5-3)
This one is a toss-up since the team that loses helps our cause...and one that wins hurts it. Detroit's remaining schedule is probably a tad easier, so maybe it's more beneficial to us for them to get another loss right now.
Philadelphia (4-5) at Green Bay (5-3)
Houston (2-6) at Arizona (4-4)
Dallas (5-4) at New Orleans (6-2)
Once again Panthers fans should find themselves rooting for "America's Team". Even if you’re anti-Cowboy, it’s time to hold your nose and pull for the Boys. A Saints loss with a Panthers win would give us a tied record for the NFC South lead. It would also give the Saints another conference loss (the 4th tie-breaker between divisional teams). The Cowboys also still face potential wild-card contenders in Green Bay and Chicago down the road, so we may end up rooting for them again before the season is over.
Carolina (5-3) at San Francisco (6-2)
The best thing for the Panthers is that they technically control their own destiny. Win out and they are automatically in. Beat the 49ers, and they take the lead for the first wildcard spot by having the head-to-head win. A Panthers win combined with a Saints loss would put us into a tie for the division crown.
Conversely, we are a 7 point underdog and are expected to lose to a good team...at home...coming off their bye week...and getting several key players back. A loss would give the Saints breathing room if they win, and allow one of the NFC North teams to push us from the final wild card slot for the time being. And it makes our Monday night game against the Patriots a must win to keep from falling to 5-5.
But it's in our hands. The team is the hottest it's ever been, and the coaching staff is making the right moves. And though our opponent is a heavy favorite, the NFL is a match-up league...and we match-up against them well. Get the win this weekend, control your own destiny, and make the results of everyone else's game irrelevant.