Ron Rivera has a lot to lose Sunday.
Think about it. The Panthers (5-9) close the season at New Orleans, a team that is suddenly hot again and particularly good at home. If the Panthers win that one, it's a bonus. They won't be expected to, even though they beat the Saints at home earlier this year.
But this one? This one against Oakland (4-10) they should win, and that's what makes it dangerous. Throw in a clunker against the Raiders, and the "Give Rivera One More Season" bandwagon (of which I'm a charter member, as I wrote this week) throws a rod. A loss to Oakland makes it look like the Panthers just aren't consistent enough to deserve much continuity.
What Oakland did to Kansas City -- a 15-0 win last week -- was what the Panthers should also have done to the Chiefs. I know the Chiefs were in an emotional state, but there's still no excuse to make Brady Quinn look like Tom Brady. That's the one jarring note in this "3-wins-in-4-games" thing for the Panthers.
Losing to Oakland at home would be very similar to losing to the Chiefs on the road. You would send fans out grumbling in the pre-Christmas chill, angry about all the money they spent on an inferior product.
So win a third straight game and Rivera can cite all sorts of reasons why he should be kept on if he has to justify himself to owner Jerry Richardson and/or the new general manager before the final decision is made.
Lose, though, and that list shrinks considerably.
-- One nice part about Sunday's game if you're watching on TV: It's a rare chance to hear Steve Beuerlein on TV. Beuerlein, the former Panther quarterback, is smooth on the air but works for CBS, and I'm usually watching or listening to Fox announcers since the Panthers play in the NFC. In a three-hour telecast, do you think they will work in at least one reference to the famous Beuerlein draw play at Green Bay?
-- The last time Oakland and Carolina played was four years ago in California, and Jake Delhomme had perhaps the worst game a Panther quarterback has ever had in a victory. He was 7-for-27 for 72 yards, one TD, four interceptions and a pass rating of 12.3. The Panthers still won 17-6 behind a defense keyed by Julius Peppers.
-- I think the Panthers will win their third straight game Sunday. I missed their upset against San Diego last week, falling to a horrid 6-8 on gameday predictions for Carolina. My pick Sunday: Carolina 32, Oakland 19.