Scott Fowler

They better be better: A guide to the second half of the Panthers season

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and his team have only two teams with losing records among the eight teams remaining on their schedule.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and his team have only two teams with losing records among the eight teams remaining on their schedule. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

After Sunday’s game, the Carolina Panthers kept saying their unsightly victory over the Los Angeles Rams had been “good enough.” And that was true.

But if the Panthers are really going to get back into the playoff race, they will have to be a lot better than that. Only their best will be good enough over the second half of the season.

Carolina is 3-5 at the season’s midpoint, and the three teams it has beaten all now have losing records. The three quarterbacks it has beaten aren’t exactly the 1927 Yankees, either – Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert and Case Keenum.

Now, though, comes the hard part. Of the Panthers’ final eight opponents, only two have a losing record. Carolina is facing one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NFL, and it begins Sunday at home against a 6-2 Kansas City team.

You don’t know much about the Chiefs, right? Yes, I agree, they are kind of boring.

They also have the NFL’s best record over the past 20 games. They are an astounding 17-3 in that span, which includes the playoffs. Carolina is 13-7 over the same stretch. The Chiefs are a smart team that cannot be overlooked, especially considering they should get quarterback Alex Smith (concussion) back for Sunday.

Road games against Oakland, Seattle and Washington loom later in the season for Carolina, and at least two of those three teams will probably make the playoffs. The Panthers’ Christmas Eve home rematch against Atlanta will be key. Even the teams with losing records that are left – San Diego (4-5) and Tampa Bay (3-5) – both come with their own dangers.

I think the Panthers might make the playoffs by going 6-2 in the second half to finish 9-7 and will almost certainly make it with a 7-1 mark to finish 10-6. But that’s going to be very difficult. To do it, I think the Panthers realistically need to win all four of their remaining home games and then at least split the four on the road.

A game like Sunday’s 13-10 victory in Los Angeles won’t make many highlight reels, but the Panthers did show some toughness. “I felt like we matched their intensity, or superseded it,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “This was a ‘gut-it-out’ win. We’re building. Our confidence is growing.”

“We’ve got to keep winning,” said linebacker Thomas Davis, whose late-career renaissance continued Sunday with an interception, a sack and a forced fumble. “We put ourselves in a hole.”

Kansas City did the near-impossible a season ago, going from 1-5 to 11-5 and making the playoffs.

So the Chiefs are both the Panthers’ current role model and their next visitor. Weird, huh? But somehow it fits.

This has been an odd, unsettling first half of the season for the Panthers. Because of their last two wins, however, they still have a chance to salvage it.

What’s left?

The Panthers are 3-5, but all three wins came against teams that now have losing records. The Panthers play only two teams who currently have losing records the rest of the way.

Date

Opponent

Record

Sunday

Kansas City

6-2

Nov. 17

New Orleans

4-4

Nov. 27

at Oakland

7-2

Dec. 4

at Seattle

4-2-1*

Dec. 11

San Diego

4-5

Dec. 19

at Washington

4-3-1

Dec. 24

Atlanta

6-3

Jan. 1

at Tampa Bay

3-5

* Does not include result from Seattle-Buffalo game Monday night.

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