That hot breath would be courtesy of Tampa Bay and Atlanta, who both won Sunday to pick up a half-game in the NFL standings on the idle Panthers.
The Panthers would have certainly preferred to take the weekend off and also increase their lead in the division, but it didn't work out that way. They got the NFL-mandated break; they also saw their lead lessen.
Check out the NFC South standings now -- Carolina (6-2) leads Tampa Bay (6-3) by a half-game and Atlanta (5-3) by one game. New Orleans (4-4) isn't out of it, either.
Tampa Bay had a really good chance of losing Sunday. Playing a Kansas City team Carolina had creamed, 34-0, a few weeks ago, the Bucs fell behind 24-3 late in the second quarter. But they made the biggest comeback in team history and won in overtime, 30-27.
Atlanta's path was much easier. The Falcons shut out Oakland -- the Panthers' next opponent -- 24-0. The Falcons held the Raiders to a ridiculously low 77 total yards Sunday. Oakland is one of the worst teams in the NFL at 2-6, but the Raiders got so embarrassed in this one I have no doubt they'll play better on Nov.9 when Carolina travels out to California to take them on.
I certainly expect Carolina to get to 8-2 in the next two weeks, what with Oakland and Detroit (0-8) on the schedule next.
But you never can tell. John Fox likes to say that all the NFL teams are a lot closer to parity than even their records show, and you can be sure he will try to make that point all this week. The Panthers can't afford a false step now, not with the NFC South at one of its strongest peaks in years.
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