I can’t believe I’m writing about a potential playoff berth for the Carolina Panthers at this moment. Between firing Matt Rhule and several of his staff and the trades of Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson, I would not have ever expected to be talking about any kind of meaningful football in January for this iteration of the Carolina Panthers. And yet, here we are. Coming off a 320 yard rushing effort, Carolina currently controls their own destiny, as they draw Tom Brady and the Tompa Bay Buccaneers for a potential playoff berth in week 17. As much as this team needs high draft picks to rebuild, they refuse to die. Steve Wilks continues his audition for the full time head coaching job in Carolina, and this is certainly a high mark for his resume. Let’s dive in.
What I liked
D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard
The first tandem of runningbacks since two Carolina franchise greats to rush for 100 yards apiece. I would have laughed at you if you told me these two would join Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in the statistical hall of fame prior to this season, or even halfway through it. These two headlined a 320 yard franchise record performance in a game the Panthers needed to win dearly for any chance to take the NFC South. They had a lot of help, however.
The Offensive Line
Matt Rhule failed at a lot of things. However, the vocal goal going into the offseason was “fix the offensive line”. I have no doubt in my mind he succeeded in that regard, even if it took several weeks to play Bradley Bozeman at center for some reason. A 570 yard thrashing of a defense with something to play for starts in the trenches. They kept Sam Darnold upright, allowed D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard to run roughshod on the competition, and just straight up dominated a front seven that was very much trending upwards this season. This strength will pay dividends for whoever is calling plays, and taking snaps under center next year.
Brian Burns, and pass deflections
Two sacks, two tackles for a loss, three QB hits set the tone for this defense against a very good Lions front five. Brian Burns absolutely deserves every penny he earns from his next contract. However, special shout out to the defensive line as a whole, with 4 pass deflections at the line and another 3 from Jeremy Chinn and Xavier Woods. We watched teams kill drives earlier in the season by batting passes against this offense, its nice to be on the other side for a change.’
What I didn’t like
I’ll keep this spot brief, because we’re looking at a huge football game this weekend and I would never have expected that from this team after Matt Rhule was shown his walking papers. But, somebody other than Brian Burns needs to turn up the heat next week and create some sacks. Derrick Brown has proved a force in 2022, but these two can’t do it alone, and it will hurt this defense against a Tom Brady fighting for potentially the last playoff run of his career.
Jaycee Horn breaking his wrist makes the above point even bigger, as currently the Panthers’ starting corners are CJ Henderson and Keith Taylor. This is not ideal and the front seven will need to step up to help these two out. I expect a lot of off zone coverage going forward, so expect easy completions if the front seven doesn’t come out swinging.’
The tight end room just flat out sucks. I do appreciate the team trying to mix in Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble, but none of these guys are consistent. We get a chunk play here and there from one of them, but no serious security blanket for Darnold, This may the the week for them to step up.
The Tampa Bay Buccanneers host Carolina with the division on the line. The Bucs have the advantage here and can clinch the division with a win over Carolina. I personally would rather enjoy the Panthers being the first team to keep a healthy Tom Brady out of the playoffs for the first time in almost two decades. And I would enjoy a dance with the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers are undefeated against them in the playoffs, after all.