Carolina Panthers: vs. Atlanta Falcons
No team had quite as dramatic a fall from grace in the middle of the season as the Carolina Panthers. Entering a Thursday night showdown in Pittsburgh in Week 10, Carolina was 6-2 and poised to battle the New Orleans Saints for NFC South supremacy.
The Steelers whipped the Panthers 52-21, and that ended up being the first of seven straight losses Carolina would suffer. Carolina fell completely out of the playoff picture as a result, but part of the blame can be ascribed to a nebulous shoulder injury that hampered the play of quarterback Cam Newton.
The Panthers hope that a healthy Newton will help them return to the playoffs, but in order to get there they will need to do better against their divisional foes. While most would assume that would involve a stronger performance against the Saints, the bigger challenge for the Panthers will be their matchups with Atlanta.
The Falcons swept the season series with the Panthers, and that can’t happen again if Ron Rivera wants to keep his job. Rivera barely survived the Panthers’ collapse a year ago and he can’t afford another early end to the Carolina season.