Once upon a time this season, the Carolina Panthers were 2-0 and everyone was smiling.
Since then, they have fallen on hard times, going 1-4-1 over the past six games. Somehow that still is good enough to lead the NFC South, but that will change Thursday night at 8:25 p.m. if Carolina (3-4-1) gets beaten at home against New Orleans (3-4).
Every season has a few pivot points. This is one of them for the Panthers.
I believe New Orleans remains the Panthers' biggest competition in the division, and I don't think there's much way Carolina can beat the Saints in New Orleans on Dec.7. So this is one the Panthers have to get. Otherwise, New Orleans moves into first place and Carolina spins into second with a difficult Monday night game Nov.10 at Philadelphia coming up.
-- I was so sorry to hear about Mo Collins, the former NFL player and West Charlotte high school coach who died Sunday at the age of 38. Collins was a former first-round draft pick out of Florida who played offensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders for six years. He also was a true Charlottean who came back to his community after his own playing days were done and tried hard to make things better at his alma mater.
-- The NFL Network's pregame show on Thursday night will have a feature on Cam Newton and some of the kids he has given "touchdown footballs" to over his career. Newton posed with and talked to more than a dozen of those kids just before Christmas last year for a long Charlotte Observer story I wrote -- one of my most personally gratifying stories ever. One of the pictures from that December photo shoot with Observer photographer Jeff Siner is above.
NFL Network contacted me recently, wanting to do their own version of the "Cam and the kids" story, and so I put the network in touch with some of the same families. The resulting feature will air sometime between 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday.
-- Speaking of TV, our news partners at WBTV will be broadcasting this game live locally. WBTV is doing its own live pregame show from 7:30-8 p.m. Thursday, which will feature Delano Little, Leah Rubertino and a couple of Observer reporters.
-- OK, prediction time. I am now 5-2-1 picking the Panthers this season, having correctly forecast Carolina to lose the past two weeks.
New Orleans was very impressive against Green Bay Sunday, but the Saints are 0-4 on the road. In a high-scoring game, I think the Panthers will pull this one out. My prediction: Carolina 30, New Orleans 28.