Carolina Panthers

Panthers fans, it’s time to move on. NFL didn’t take sides in playoff loss to Saints.

I have a friend. I promise I do. Loves his family, and his family loves him back. He owns a piece of a successful business and leaves the house on a regular basis. Yet despite leading a full and productive life, he asked me if the crew officiating the Carolina Panthers - New Orleans Saints playoff game worked to ensure that the Panthers lost.

Why would they want the Panthers to lose?

FRIEND: Because of team owner Jerry Richardson, and the allegations of scandal.

ME: Richardson is selling the team. He’ll be out of the NFL. That, and the ongoing investigation, will be enough to appease the league. Also, not that it matters, but Richardson was one of Roger Goodell’s most loyal proponents when Goodell campaigned for the commissioner’s job.

FRIEND: The NFL’s ratings have declined in successive seasons. Wouldn’t the inclusion of teams from larger markets enhance playoff popularity? The Panthers are not one of those teams.

ME: The NFL’s rise in popularity was meteoric, and could not be sustained. Of course the league would like the playoffs to feature its most popular teams. But let’s look at the teams still in the playoffs.

Among the U.S.’s 10 biggest cities, only San Antonio and San Diego lack an NFL franchise, and they’ve had as much playoff success as all but one of the other eight.

New York is the biggest market. How did the Jets and Giants do last weekend? Los Angeles is second. Anybody see a Rams’ score? Chicago is third. The Bears didn’t win. Houston is fourth. The Texans didn’t win. Phoenix is fifth. The Cardinals didn’t win. Philadelphia is sixth. The Eagles got a bye.

Dallas and San Jose make the top 10. We’ll give San Jose the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers didn’t win last weekend. It’s January. Of course the Cowboys didn’t win.

Officials might have missed an intentional-grounding call against Carolina late in the New Orleans - Carolina game. (Check the replay; it’s close.) If so, that call was an error by human beings and not the result of a conspiracy by a stripe-wearing cult.

I looked at my friend and said, “You’re not a troll. You interact with human beings, are not adverse to fresh air and if somebody criticized you for living in the basement, well, you have a great basement. Do you really believe officials conspired against Carolina?”

FRIEND: Nah. I just wasn’t ready for the season to end.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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