Welcome to “The Biggest Loser.”
Our contestants today: The Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets. We will compare them in nine categories, judging which of Charlotte’s two highest-profile pro teams has been the largest disappointment so far this season and can claim the title of “The Biggest Loser.”
Ready to cringe? Let’s go.
1) Most disappointing player so far.
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Panthers: Cam Newton. Say what you want about that makeshift offensive line and the unnecessary and painful purge of the top four receivers from last season, but there’s no doubt Newton has regressed in Year Four. The question must now be asked: Is this really a quarterback you want to stake $100 million and your future upon? I still would say yes, but I’m starting to feel like I’m in the minority.
Hornets: Lance Stephenson. Coach Steve Clifford several times has not played a healthy Stephenson for the entire fourth quarter of games. Think about that. Stephenson was supposed to be the Hornets’ missing link, and Clifford is choosing not to play him at all.
Biggest loser: Panthers. Stephenson at least has the excuse of adjusting to a new team.
2) Worst current losing streak.
Panthers: Six straight. This team was once 3-2-1, a record that sounded like a countdown. And it was – a countdown to oblivion. At 3-8-1, Carolina has not won a game since Oct. 5.
Hornets: Nine straight. Once 4-5, Charlotte is now 4-14.
Biggest loser: Hornets, simply because nine is greater than six.
3) Worst single loss of the season.
Panthers: Nov. 16, Atlanta. The Falcons are almost as bad as Carolina, but Panthers coach “Riverboat” Ron Rivera morphed into Reluctant Ron and played for a 46-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter rather than trying to score a go-ahead touchdown. Graham Gano promptly missed the kick.
Hornets: Nov. 29, at Atlanta. The Hornets edged the Hawks in double overtime earlier in the season, but found themselves down by an embarrassing 44 points in this one before losing by 30.
Biggest loser: Hornets. It’s really hard to get down by 44 points in the NBA. That loss calls the team’s professionalism into question.
4) Worst single play of season.
Panthers: Oct. 26, Newton’s backhanded throw vs. Seattle. The Panthers wasted a valiant defensive effort in a 13-9 home loss to the reigning Super Bowl champions, in part because Newton scrambled left on third-and-7 from the Seattle 34 and then tried to fling the ball backhanded to tight end Greg Olsen. The resulting interception changed the game’s momentum.
Hornets: Nov. 19, Indiana tip-in. With the game tied at 86 in the final seconds against a short-handed Pacers squad, the Hornets didn’t block out and allowed a winning offensive rebound and score at the buzzer.
Biggest loser: Panthers. They win this category because they have so many nominees – you could name five more plays that could win it.
5) Worst-case scenario.
Panthers: Lose the last four in a row and end the season 3-12-1 with a 10-game losing streak. Given that Carolina has not won in nearly two months and has lost six games by 18 or more points this season, it’s certainly possible.
Hornets: Never get back on track and end up 30-52 a season after making the playoffs in 2013-14 with 43 wins.
Biggest loser: Panthers. Given that Carolina went 12-4 last season, this has been a precipitous drop.
6) Worst luck.
Panthers: Baltimore was going to beat Carolina anyway, but wide receiver Steve Smith’s early 61-yard touchdown reception off a tipped ball was a killer.
Hornets: Al Jefferson got into perfect position against Miami for a tip-in of a Kemba Walker miss, tipped it gently just before the buzzer – and saw the ball hit the back rim and bound out for a 94-93 loss.
Biggest loser: Hornets. A last-second win like that could have stopped this current skid before it really got started.
7) Worst head-scratcher.
Panthers: How can you get two punts blocked in a single game and returned for touchdowns in the NFL? It hadn’t happened since 1990 – until Carolina managed to do it Sunday to give Minnesota a 14-point gift.
Hornets: The team is very healthy by NBA standards. How has it managed to add Stephenson and Brian Roberts, a strong reserve guard, and get worse?
Biggest loser: Panthers. C’mon – two punts blocked?
8) Worst front-office decision.
Panthers: Not signing a free-agent offensive tackle. While the elite tackles were all gone in the draft by the time Carolina picked at No. 28, there were a lot to choose from in free agency. The Panthers mistakenly stayed with the forgettable combination of Byron Bell and Nate Chandler.
Hornets: Not re-signing Josh McRoberts. Without the team’s “glue guy,” the Hornets have too often disintegrated at key moments.
Biggest loser: Hornets. Losing McRoberts may end up being what short-circuits the season, and he wasn’t that expensive by NBA standards.
9) Worst stat.
Panthers: Carolina is allowing 27.6 points per game this season after giving up only 15.1 per game in 2013.
Hornets: Charlotte is 2-7 in games decided by five points or fewer.
Biggest loser: Panthers. With a defense that no longer gets to the quarterback very much, general manager Dave Gettleman’s philosophy of not spending much on his defensive secondary has backfired badly.
Despite all this losing, neither one of these teams’ head coaches seems to be in any imminent danger of being fired (although that may not be the case for some of the Panthers’ higher-profile assistants).
To be fair, the Hornets have played only 22 percent of the season. They still have time and hope. The Panthers have played 75 percent of their season and are basically toast.
As for the winner of our biggest loser contest?
It was close, but the Panthers were victorious, 5-4.
So yes, the Panthers have finally won something. Feel free to hold your applause.