The calendar says October, but let’s think about December for a moment.
It’s clear already that Atlanta and Carolina, both 3-0, are the class of the NFC South. Because of a quirk of the NFL schedule, those two will play each other twice in a three-week span in December. Those two games will likely decide the NFC South.
On Dec. 13, the Falcons come to Charlotte. On Dec. 27, the Panthers go to Atlanta.
I can’t wait to see Josh Norman try to match up on Julio Jones again. Besides everything that will be on the line on a team level, Norman will have several million dollars at stake in those three weeks.
If he can guard Jones one-on-one as well as he did last year, Norman will get the sort of mega-contract he expects – either from Carolina or somewhere else – when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in early 2016.
If he can’t – and Jones is the best receiver in the world at the moment – then Norman will still get a lot of money, but he won’t break anyone’s bank.
▪ SMU’S EMBARRASSMENT: What has happened to the basketball program at SMU under former Charlotte Hornets coach Larry Brown is an utter embarrassment – but hardly unexpected.
Brown left behind NCAA crashes waiting to happen both at Kansas and UCLA after he bolted from each of those jobs in the 1980s to return to the NBA. Now SMU is in NCAA trouble, too, and Brown will serve a nine-game suspension this coming season. No way anyone could have seen that coming, right?
▪ SHOULD SMITH RECONSIDER? I believe it is quite plausible that Steve Smith will change his mind about his impending retirement. Smith, 36, announced before the 2015 season began that it would be his last.
The all-time leading receiver for the Panthers, Smith has been in Baltimore since 2014 and has already had two receiving games of 150-plus yards this season, although he missed much of Baltimore’s Thursday night overtime win over Pittsburgh because he reportedly sustained four broken ribs after a big hit.
Smith remains as volatile as ever, of course. Smith believed former Panthers teammate Mike Mitchell knocked him out of the game Thursday night and proclaimed afterward that Mitchell would be on his “lifetime hit list.”
One problem: Mitchell wasn’t involved in the play. The hit actually came from Pittsburgh’s Lawrence Timmons.
▪ JUST NO JIMMY: The best line I heard about Carolina’s trade with Chicago and former coach John Fox for defensive end Jared Allen this week came from reader Joe Bentley. When I wrote a column praising the Panthers’ gamble on Allen, Bentley wrote to me on Twitter: “I also think there’s a lot of upside – as long as Fox didn’t package Clausen in the deal.”
▪ FLAG DAY – FOR THREE WEEKS: Through the first three weeks of the NFL season, there have been a record number of penalties accepted (730). Although it seems to me the Panthers have been heavily penalized, in reality they are in the middle of the pack according to the latest stats at the excellent website nflpenalties.com.
If you’re curious, the Panthers’ leaders for the dubious honor of most penalties so far this season are special-teamer Teddy Williams and defensive end Kony Ealy, with three apiece. Williams’ foul for not returning to the playing field quickly enough while covering a punt against New Orleans was the most costly. After the Panthers had to redo the kick, New Orleans ran it back for a 74-yard touchdown.
▪ WELCOME BACK, JOBEY: I was glad to see that Jobey Thomas, a standout basketball player at Charlotte, will be a radio color analyst for the 49ers’ basketball games this season. Thomas always has had a nice feel for the game.
▪ EARLY MVP: If you conducted MVP voting for the NFL today, you would have to consider Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer a legitimate candidate along with the usual suspects of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. The Cardinals are 16-2 in Palmer’s past 18 starts.
▪ NO MORE BUTT FUMBLES: The New York Jets don’t want to take any chances with the thinner toilet paper in England. According to The New York Times, among the items they shipped to London to keep their players comfortable in preparation for Sunday’s game in London against Miami were 350 rolls of American toilet paper.