West Coast Trip to Define Season

Despite a win against the Saints in Week 11, the Carolina Panthers remain in last place prior to their upcoming west coast trip…

After watching a 17-point lead dissolve against the Kansas City Chiefs at home, the Carolina Panthers almost lost consecutive late game leads but held on against New Orleans. Despite allowing another 17 points in the fourth quarter of last Thursday’s prime time game, Carolina converted a first-down (their only one of the quarter) when they needed it most.

With the win, the Panthers evened the season series against New Orleans and positioned themselves two-games back of the division lead. However, a Tampa Bay win over those same Chiefs bumped the Buccaneers into second place and only one game back of the division leading Atlanta Falcons.

Facing an upcoming two week stretch of back-to-back road games in Oakland and Seattle, the Carolina Panthers season hangs in the balance. Through the first half of the schedule, Carolina showed only glimpses of a team that put together a 15-1 regular season and Super Bowl appearance a year prior. But following the bye week, a resurgent Panthers defense is now third in sacks among the NFL, aiding in a 3-1 record.

Will the turnaround continue?

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) reacts to a sack by Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) during the game between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium. Carolina wins 30-20 over Arizona. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

That question will be answered during the upcoming stretch. Both the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks lead their respective divisions having each won seven games to this point in the season. The Raiders could push their win total to eight with a victory on Monday night in Mexico City.

If the Carolina Panthers can find a way to win both of these games, their playoff chances will dramatically increase. Furthermore, two divisional games in Weeks 16 and 17 against the Falcons and Buccaneers could send Carolina toward playoff football for the fourth consecutive season.

Should the Panthers falter, a split would indicate a need for the sweep of San Diego and Washington prior to the final two weeks of the season. Injuries are likely to have an impact of Carolina’s performance over the next few games with several players exiting Thursday night’s contest and not returning. Most notably, linebacker Luke Kuechly and center Ryan Kalil.

Atlanta hosts Arizona and Kansas City, Tampa Bay hosts Seattle then visits San Diego, and New Orleans hosts Los Angeles and Detroit over the next two weeks. Essentially, while the Atlanta Falcons offense is high powered, their defense leaves them vulnerable and the division remains in reach for every team.

Even the Carolina Panthers.

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