Some thoughts entering the Panthers' final game of the season, which is Sunday at 1 p.m. against New Orleans:
-- Now this is weird. The New Orleans Saints (13-2) are the No.1 seed in the NFC entering the playoffs. The Carolina Panthers are 7-8 and out of the playoffs. And yet, Carolina is the team that’s on fire entering this one and the Saints are cold. If New Orleans loses Sunday, the Saints will enter the playoffs with a three-game losing streak.
-- I have thought several times this week of what Panther linebacker Jon Beason said after Carolina dropped to 5-8 with a loss to New England. Beason said the Panthers would have to be “perfect” the rest of the way just to be “average.” Very true – an average NFL record would be 8-8 – and very prophetic. Carolina has outscored its last two foes 67-16 and played two remarkably complete games while doing so. It’s just too bad that it has happened so late.
-- Here’s an interesting thought: If Matt Moore had started the entire season, what would Carolina’s record be right now?
-- New Orleans would be foolish to play QB Drew Brees much – if at all – Sunday. Expect to see Mark (He’s Still in the NFL?!) Brunell quarterback the Saints for most of the afternoon.
-- I love what Moore has done the past two games, but he’ll have his hands full when throwing against the Saints. Without Steve Smith (broken forearm), Moore is going to have to really fire some balls into tight windows, because no other Panther receiver can regularly get much separation.
-- Did you know the Panthers are 12-0 all-time when Jonathan Stewart carries the ball 15 times or more?
-- I’ve backed myself into a corner on this prediction. A month ago I said I wouldn’t pick Carolina to win a game again.
Since then, the Panthers have rebounded, and they’ll have the advantage Sunday of playing at home against a Saints team that will be playing a lot of second-stringers so as to stay healthy for the playoffs. Still, I’m a man of my word.
My prediction: New Orleans 19, Carolina 18.
(And now the stats: The good news is my prediction before the season began that Carolina would finish 7-9 and out of the playoffs is going to be close. The bad news is that on a game-by-game basis in this blog this season I'm only 8-7 choosing Panthers' outcomes -- a flipped coin could have done just as well).