OK, technically the above headline isn’t true for the Carolina Panthers.
If they lose at New Orleans Sunday, they would remain in the playoffs as the No.5 seed in the NFC. They could conceivably make one of those Football Tours Across America like the 2007 N.Y. Giants did, winning one road game after another (in Carolina’s case, the most likely scenario would be that they would have to win at Arizona, at Atlanta and at the New York Giants, in that order).
But you know what? I don’t think this Carolina team could do that. In fact, I’m sure of it. This team is not quite that hot. It’s not that good on the road (3-4 this season). The Panthers are just not ready to have to win three straight road games just to get to the Feb.1 Super Bowl in Tampa. Carolina might win one road game. Maybe even two. But not three. That road is like I-77 at 5 p.m. right after a tanker full of vegetables overturns.
So that’s why Sunday’s 1 p.m. game vs. New Orleans is HUGE for Carolina. Win that one, and you’re on a new stretch of I-485 at 5 a.m. No bumps. Little traffic. Unless you run out of gas or have major car trouble, you’ve got a great chance of getting there. Carolina would have a No.2 seed then and only have to win two playoff games – with at least the first one at home on either Jan.10 or 11 – to make the Super Bowl.
So I’m going to go ahead and call this one right now: If the Panthers win Sunday at New Orleans, all things are still possible. But.... if they lose Sunday? Yes, they’ll be a playoff team. But no, they won’t make the Super Bowl.