By: Josh Buck
WILMINGTON, NC Dec. 29, 2014 – Hello Panther fans and congratulations. You have just became the first team to ever repeat as NFC South Champions. Yes, you read that right. Ever. No team in the 12 year history of this division has ever repeated as champions…until now. The Panthers have done it. Now what? Well, now you get to host a playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. A team who at one point was thought of to be one of the best teams in the league hands down. Then Palmer went down and they kept winning with Stanton. Then Stanton goes down and they make it into the playoffs as a Wild Card team instead of winning the division as expected earlier in the year. This game has all kinds of angles that are going to be very interesting to dissect leading up to the game.
These teams have been very difficult to analyze this season as they have both been very inconsistent. As soon as you seem to think you have the Panthers figured out and what they are good and bad at they tend to find a way to alter their identity and become a completely different team. This has lead them to a very disappointing 7-8-1 record at the end of the regular season. On the other side of the ball the Cardinals are inconsistent by actually being consistent in the fact that they find ways to win. They have starters go down and the coaching staff finds players to put into the system and continue to win. This has helped the Cardinals end the season at 11-5.
These teams have made it to the playoffs while leaning heavily on their defenses. Carolina has allowed only 339 yards per game and 23 points per game while the Cardinals have allowed 368 yards per game but only 18 points per game. If you only used these numbers you’d assume that this game would be easily won by the visiting team and probably wouldn’t even want to tune in on Saturday. So add in the fact that Carolina’s offense is amassing 346 yards and 21 points per game and Arizona has 368 yards but only 18 points per game. This is going to make it quite interesting. This made me want to dig deeper into the numbers and try to get some sense on what is going on with these two and I think I found the key. The key for the Panthers to come out victorious is very simple. Cam Newton. Now I’m sure everyone is thinking to themselves, “Well of course Josh. That’s obvious,” so here’s why I am saying this. On the season the Panthers were able to average 127 rushing yards as a team. The Cardinals were allowing 108 rushing yards per game so if Cam has the ability to establish himself in the run game then the Panthers will be able to expose the defense and open some soft spots in the passing game.
Finally, there is a little bit of history that is backing the Panthers in their hopes for a victory this weekend. The last time a team has won their division with a sub-500 record was the 2010 season when the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West at 7-9 and hosted the Wild Card team of the New Orleans Saints who finished the season 11-5. Numbers beginning to sound eerily familiar Panther fans? Well, as many people know the Seahawks went on to win that game at home. This could bode well for the Panthers as they are sitting in the same situation that the Seahawks did just 3 years ago.
After taking all of this into consideration I sat down and tried to come up with a prediction for the Panthers vs Cardinals game and changed my mind many different times. At first I wanted to say the Panthers were going to take care of business at home by running for 150 yards and winning the game 20-13. Then I realized that this is the Cardinals. They have won a lot of games this year that they were counted out of and no one thought they even stood a chance. So I wanted to make my prediction for the Cardinals with a score of 17-14. In the end, I stick with my gut instincts and will say that the Panthers will win this game but actually my final score prediction will be 24-14. I see Cam Newton running for 85 yards of his own while throwing for another 215 and two total touchdowns.
Congratulations again Panther fans and good luck this weekend.