Monday, September 29, 2008

Panthers in thick of NFC race

A look at the NFL standings this Monday morning reveals that the Panthers are tied for the second-best record in the NFC -- not bad for a first quarter of a season's work.

Washington's 26-24 upset of Dallas Sunday once again shows that the power of the NFC rests in the NFC East, where you have to say that all four teams (Dallas, Washington, the N.Y. Giants and Philadelphia) are very possibly playoff teams. At best, though, only three of them can make it -- the Giants currently have the upper hand at 3-0, while the Cowboys and Redskins are both 3-1.

The Panthers and Tampa Bay are tied atop the NFC South at 3-1, which makes their looming battle Oct.12 in Tampa quite the early-season showdown. Carolina should enter that one at 4-1 unless it stubs its toe this Sunday at home against Kansas City, which looked awful throughout September until yesterday, when Chiefs coach Herm Edwards finally remembered he had one of the best backs in the NFL on his bench.

Larry Johnson gained 198 yards against Denver in a 33-19 Chiefs win and will be K.C.'s go-to option Sunday. If the Panthers can stack up LJ -- and they will try to do it with eight men in the box, as they did Sunday vs. Michael Turner, and dare Kansas City to throw -- they should win that one. In any case, the Panthers traditionally divide every season into four quarters and try to go 3-1 in each segment to end up 12-4. It never works out quite that way, but it's a nice goal, and they've accomplished step one.

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