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Jared Fialko

Can Panthers finally join plus-.500 club?

Posted October 24, 2013
Updated November 25, 2013

Like most No. 1 overall NFL draft picks, Cam Newton led a charmed life when it came to wins and losses. He was part of two BCS National Championship teams, with a NJCAA Title sandwiched in between. If you count his redshirt season, his college record at Florida, Blinn and Auburn was a combined 47-6. Forgive him for thinking it would take fewer than 39 games across three campaigns to get on the right side of .500 for the first time in his pro career.

These are the uncharted waters the Newton-led Carolina Panthers are sailing toward on Thursday. With a victory against the winless Buccaneers, they will be 4-3.

The last time the fellas from the Queen City were in such a scenario?
Their secondary got shredded by Larry Fitzgerald.
In the NFC Divisional round.
Of the 2008 season.
Ten days before the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
The first one, that is.

Let's put this dismal drudge of defeats into even more perspective. Do you know how many players on the current roster have hung around since that Kurt Warner crushing in Charlotte? Try single digits. Nine. Only seven if you discount players not listed as active.

Where was the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Luke Kuechly, the last time the Panthers were plus-.500? Fresh off his completing his senior year of football at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he accumulated 130 tackles, a sack and three forced fumbles. By the way, rivals.com thought so highly of him, they bestowed a hefty three-star rating. Another reason why one should always take those snowflakes with a grain of salt. Not too much about this screams "three-star:"

Add 'em all up, and Carolina's streak of .500 or worse stretches 70 games, by far the worst of any team in the league.

Hence, why despite 4-3 not looking like much in the grand scheme of things, it would be massive for this team. Massive for the confidence of their franchise quarterback, who, despite putting up gaudy numbers in his first two years, has been chastised (many would say, unfairly) for his moody behavior throughout this long slump.

Massive for the potential playoff chances for a team, whose fanbase may need it more than any other's. Yes, three weeks ago following the Arizona debacle, "Panthers" and "postseason" together in the same sentences would've garnered a Leslie Nielsen "Airplane!" type reaction.

However, given the state of the current NFC, anything is possible when seemingly every team is flawed. No way the East sends more than one to the playoffs. Chicago has repeatedly proven their ineptitude when Jay Cutler is sidelined. Detroit's defense is shaky, at best, and no-telling how many 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties Ndamukong Suh will cost the Lions along the way. Last year's No. 1 seed, Atlanta, seems broken beyond repair. The Panthers pounded on St. Louis so badly, they were forced to phone Brett Favre (who looks like he's aged about 15 years in the last 3) about their new quarterback vacancy.

Meanwhile, for as awful as Carolina looked overall against the Cardinals and how vomit-inducing the finish in Buffalo was, on the whole the Panthers have played well. Newton may not be posting Madden '14 numbers, but he's quietly transformed into a more efficient passer. Against St. Louis he missed on only two throws, both of which were catchable balls. His completion percentage of 63.5 is up six points from 2012, and he's on pace for 27 TD tosses, which would be a personal best.

Defensively, Carolina boasts a top-five unit in almost every major category. They allow fewer than 85 rushing yards and 218 passing yards a contest, 4th and 5th best, respectively, and at a combined 302.2 yards per game, that's No. 3 in the league. Most importantly is the scoreboard, which I've been told "don't lie." Their 13.8 points per game allowed ranks only behind Seattle's superb squad.

Safe to say, Thursday night's matchup bodes well for the Panthers' chances to reach the "vaunted" 4-3 mark. If ever there was a team on the brink of madness, it's Tampa Bay. One of only two teams left yet to taste victory? Check. Players ready to revolt and declare mutiny on its head coach, Greg Schiano? Check. Their best offensive weapon, running back Doug Martin, ruled out due to a torn labrum? Check. Heck, biological bedlam with three Bucs testing positive for MRSA (seriously? MRSA?!)? Check. Well, at least it's not raining!

Here's just hoping Thursday's tilt isn't just another in the long line of stinkers the NFL Network has forced upon us this year. Shoot, that Giants/Vikings Monday night game was so pitiful, I'm surprised the NFLN didn't purchase the rights to rerun it!

Currently listening to: Lorde - "Tennis Court"

You've no doubt heard the uber-talented 16-year-old's smash "Royals" by now, but this first cut off her debut album is brilliance, and the official video (which I will not link here for its usage of one George Carlin's 7 deadlies) is simple yet powerful. She's like a mini-Lana Del Rey who hopefully won't blow it on Saturday Night Live like LDR's disaster.

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  • jdpridg Oct 24, 12:28 p.m.

    Hoping for a win but have an uneasy feeling about the game. The bucs are hungry. Not good, but hungry. A dangerous thing for the panthers.

  • iron fist Oct 24, 12:18 p.m.

    With upcoming games against Atlanta, at San Fran, and NE this is a must win game if the Panthers... View More

    — Posted by NOT sorry for being caucasian

    Even with a win tonight I don't think they make the playoffs. Cam has improved but not enough for the Panthers to be a playoff team.

  • hoodwinked82 Oct 24, 12:13 p.m.

    31-13 Panthers.

  • NOT sorry for being caucasian Oct 24, 11:35 a.m.

    With upcoming games against Atlanta, at San Fran, and NE this is a must win game if the Panthers want any shot at the playoffs. Still have to play the Saints twice as well. GO PANTHERS!

  • Gunnstigator Oct 24, 11:10 a.m.

    4-3 might not seem like a big deal, but if the Panthers lose tonight and fall to 3-4, that IS huge, as in a HUGE step back. I really hope the Panthers win this game, but the Bucs beat them twice last year and while the Bucs aren't good, they were good enough to be in the games they lost. The Panthers need to build on their two-game win streak and beat Tampa tonight.

  • McLovin Oct 24, 10:41 a.m.

    they should trade for Josh Gordon...Panthers need a super elite receiver as Sir Steve Smith ages. Im looking forward to a W tonight over Tampa!

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