For the first time since 2008, Carolina Panthers fans are using the word that has been scoffed at for the past few seasons: playoffs.
With the win over the struggling Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the Panthers moved up to 5-3 and currently in control of the second wild card spot for the playoffs. The fans aren’t the only ones giving in to the optimism of the playoff talk. To add fuel to the fire, Ron Rivera at his Monday press conference stated that this particular Panthers team could very well make the playoffs or to use his words his team “has an opportunity” to secure a playoff spot.
In the past, Rivera has talked ad nauseam about being a playoff team and what a playoff team looks like and how they play. Nobody has paid attention until now.
The playoff talk has been amped up in recent weeks given the Panthers’ four game winning streak. It is important to remember that the last four teams the Cats have beaten are a combined 8-33. While the margin of victory has been by 20 points or more, the team has not won over all pundits and fans alike.
The next two games will show not just Panther Nation where they stand, but it will show the NFL. Over the next two weeks, Carolina plays two of the best teams in the NFL. The team will first travel to San Francisco, who is on a win streak of their own, winning their last five. The game is expected to be nationally televised on Fox.
Already the stakes are being set high. Rivera has acknowledged that this contest will be a good barometer as to where the Panthers stand in the NFL and where they rank. If the Panthers pull it out, it will send a strong message that Carolina is a legitimate playoff contender and one to be reckoned with at that. Lose badly and cue the overrated talk.
The Panthers will get another opportunity the following week when the New England Patriots come to Charlotte for another nationally televised contest on Monday Night Football. The Panthers have taken care of the teams they were supposed to beat, now they have to prove that they belong with the big boys of the NFL in order to take that next step.
Optimism in Panther Nation is at an all time high in the Ron Rivera regime and why shouldn’t it be. The team appears to have turned a page from the previous Rivera teams that seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in some games. If the Cats lay an egg on Sunday, a lot of this excitement will go away.
Every game from here on out gets tougher for the Panthers. Five of the last eight teams Carolina will play have winning records. If there was a time to show the league this team is a threat, it’s now.
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