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Carolina Panthers have never quite recovered from playoff loss to Arizona Cardinals

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

OK, quick – tell me the last time the Panthers were going into a game with a record above .500.

You have to go back awhile – to the playoffs following the 2008 season. The Panthers had just completed a 12-4 regular season and Arizona – starring Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald – was coming to town for a playoff game.

That day went sour, and there have been a lot of sour ones since. The Panthers have not been better than .500, even for a week, since Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions in that playoff game and wide receiver Fitzgerald burned the Panthers repeatedly.

Fitzgerald is still around, although most of the other key players and coaches from that day are gone. Now the Panthers (1-2) visit Arizona with a chance to get to .500. And since Carolina has no team on the October schedule with a winning record, the Panthers have a real chance to surpass that mark this month.

•  If the Cardinals don’t help a lot on Greg Hardy crashing in from Carson Palmer’s blind side, they are nuts. Hardy is coming off a three-sack game (although he has been sick this week) and the Cardinals just traded their left tackle and have stuck Bradley Sowell, a player they picked up only a month ago, into the starting lineup.

•  Arizona has an underrated defense, especially vs. the run. Did you check out Doug Martin’s numbers last week? Tampa Bay’s fine running back got the ball 27 times and only could gain 45 yards. DeAngelo Williams may find rough sledding vs. the Cardinals.

•  I think the Panthers will need Cam Newton to move the ball through the air to win. Mike Glennon threw 42 times last week in Tampa’s 13-10 loss to Arizona and didn’t complete a single pass over 20 yards. Newton will have to do a lot better than that, and should given his predisposition the past two games for throwing the deep ball to Ted Ginn Jr.

•  With the Panthers relatively healthy, rested and coming off the most lopsided victory in their team’s history – a 38-0 win over the New York Giants – this game would seem to set up for a Carolina victory. But after watching the Panthers since 1995, I have seen this sort of game disintegrate too many times. I have picked them to win all three times this season and missed twice – here comes my first anti-Panther pick of the season. Arizona 23, Carolina 20.

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