Tom Sorensen

Would the Panthers have done better in NFL playoffs than wild-card rout victims?

When the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the Oakland Raiders roster were injured, Connor Cook (8) couldn’t shoulder the load. Too bad, too, because the Raiders were fun.
When the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the Oakland Raiders roster were injured, Connor Cook (8) couldn’t shoulder the load. Too bad, too, because the Raiders were fun. AP

The NFL playoffs last weekend appeared to match the varsity against the junior varsity. The average margin of the four games was 19 points, and each victory was determined by double figures.

Some fans of the Carolina Panthers allow themselves to believe that their team could have provided better competition than Detroit, Miami, the New York Giants or Oakland did. But there’s no reason to believe that. Carolina was a bad team, and bad teams watch the playoffs on TV.

This is why Carolina's off-season will be particularly compelling. The offense needs at least one lineman and a spark, somebody who can stretch a field and challenge defensive coordinators. The defense isn’t as needy, although finding a stellar safety would be huge. The pass rush ultimately found itself. But defensive end/designated pass rusher Mario Addison (a team-high 9 ½ sacks) is the most underrated player on the roster, and he’s a free agent.

About the playoffs: The team I feel for is Oakland. The Raiders didn’t overpower opponents this season. They beat them by being as good as they had to be when they had to be. Everybody in the huddle knew that when quarterback Derek Carr announced that they were going to get the first down, the touchdown or the victory, they would.

Without Carr, they lost their regular-season finale to Denver. Without backup Matt McGloin, who hurt his shoulder against the Broncos, they started rookie Connor Cook in the playoffs, and lost to Houston, a team Oakland defeated 27-20 in November.

Had Carr stayed healthy, imagine the silver and black possibilities this weekend. The Raiders would play the Chiefs, the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots.

I love the old school powers gathering in the playoffs – Pittsburgh and the Dallas Cowboys. An Oakland-Dallas Super Bowl would have been almost too big to play. But they would have played anyway.

I’m in a pool, and made my picks before the playoffs began. I got one wrong last weekend. I picked Oakland to beat Houston. I had to.

I had, and still have, New England beating Green Bay in the Super Bowl.

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

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