We usually highlight three concepts to keep an eye on each week, but the Carolina Panthers Week 11 match up against the Baltimore Ravens is a new beast. The most comparable game under Steve Wilks’ five weeks of leadership was the Cincinnati Bengals game two weeks ago and, as tests go, the Panthers failed it spectacularly. The Ravens are a better team, they are coming off of a bye week, and they are in the hunt to improve their playoff seeding. Put together, they have the motive, the means, and the opportunity to absolutely dust Carolina.
That leaves Panthers fans with only one real thing to watch this week: how do they stack up against real competition? This isn’t specifically a measure of how either Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold perform, nor preparation to excuse the defense’s performance if Jeremy Chinn or a Juston Burris don’t play. All of those guys are parts of a bigger whole. You might call it a team.
Everybody knows the Panthers aren’t on the same level as the Ravens. Oddsmakers at Draftkings Sportsbook have the Ravens favored by 5 points more than any other team is favored by this week.
Will the coaches turtle up and play not to lose? Will the players free lance or throw tantrums or throw ill-advised passes out of fear? These are small facets of the same, larger question: Will the Panthers show up?
Competition on Sunday is going to be a measure of the coaches and the players combined. The Panthers may be bad this season, but they have most of the pieces of a good team. This is not the kind of game the Panthers should win, but it is the kind that they should make more interesting than a 13.5 point spread implies. Otherwise, we should consider revising our optimism that is anchored on this talent having better, or more consistent, coaching next year.
I certainly don’t know if they will. Let me be clear that this is not intended as gambling advice. But it is the kind of litmus test that can show us where this team is under this half formed coaching staff. It is, perhaps, the only game left on Carolina’s schedule where Wilks could incontrovertibly perform David Tepper’s mythical “incredible job.”
That gives the Panthers their own means and motive for performing on Sunday, with the game itself providing the opportunity for a statement.. Whether or not they seize the opportunity—and not to win, mind you, just to compete—will tell us a lot about who the 2022 Carolina Panthers are setting the 2023 iteration up to be.