The Carolina Panthers are currently the 5th seed in the NFC playoff race, but as we discussed yesterday they still have a mathematical chance to claim any of the six playoff spots available. The NFC’s playoff spots are truly up for grabs, and for the Panthers to be one of the six teams with a shot to represent the conference in the Super Bowl they’re going to need their biggest star to remain healthy for the last few weeks of the season.
We’ve already seen the Philadelphia Eagles lose Carson Wentz due to a torn ACL, an unfortunate injury that derailed a potential MVP season for the Eagles’ signal caller and potentially changed their season’s outlook from Super Bowl favorite to one-and-done playoff participant.
Simply put, the Panthers are not a playoff team without Cam Newton under center. Newton has the ability to take over a game and carry the team when they need him to, as we saw last Sunday against the Vikings when he set up the go-ahead score late in the 4th quarter with a 62-yard dash to the 8-yard line. No other quarterback on the Panthers roster can come close to duplicating that kind of threat.
I’m not taking anything away from Derek Anderson here. I think he’s a fine backup quarterback when you need someone to be a veteran leader in the locker room, and he’s a good fit when you need him to take over a series or two during a game or even make the occasional spot start here and there when the result of the game isn’t very important. The simple fact remains, however, that Derek Anderson can’t do this:
The pre-snap shift was huge for Cam Newton's 62-yard run. pic.twitter.com/IDrIRDGCyR— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) December 11, 2017
The Carolina Panthers have a mission to win the NFC South and win the Super Bowl. I’m sure they’d rather have the latter than the former, but their ultimate goal is to accomplish both. If they want to do that then they’re going to have to rely on Newton to be at his best. Otherwise, we’ll spend the next few months (and maybe even years) talking about what might have been.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to have that conversation just yet.