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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Will Your Team Be In or Out? NFC Wild Card Preview

NFC Wild Card Preview

It's that time of the season when teams, like the +New Orleans Saints and the +Seattle Seahawks, finish locking up their divisions, leaving many others fighting desperately for a wild card spot.  

Here's a quick look at the NFC Wild Card hunt. 

The Pack:

+San Francisco 49ers (6-2)- In stark contrast to past .500 playoff teams, the NFC West is this year's strongest division.  The 49ers, unfortunately, will have trouble catching the 7-1 Seahawks.  A tough schedule ahead and a shaky receiver core, may give San Francisco fits down the stretch.  The 49ers current wild card lead may shorten after a tough road trip east, against the Saints and Skins. Colin Kaepernick remains the key to San Francisco's success.  Without a true deep threat, the 49ers will have to live by Kaepernick or die by the Kaepernick.

Key Games: host +Carolina Panthers+New Orleans Saints; host +Seattle Seahawks

+Green Bay Packers (5-2)- Injuries to key players at valued positions could jeopardize Green Bay's longstanding control of the NFC North.  Even with the most underrated of the great quarterbacks, +Aaron Rodgers, injuries to Jermichael Finley (TE), Randell Cobb (WR), James Jones (WR), and Clay Matthews (LB) could make for a challenging chase.

The Packers have quietly led the North, but are vulnerable. They lead the Lions by only one game, who they still have to play in Detroit.  Unlikely to be the defensive stalemate of their first meeting, Rodgers vs. Megatron on the turf could be the the offensive battle we had hoped for earlier in Green Bay.

A relatively easy schedule down the stretch could mean problems for other teams in the wild card hunt if the Packers lose the division.  A strong overall record will give the Packers a strong shot at a wildcard spot.

Key Game: host @+Detroit Lions  @+Dallas Cowboys

+Detroit Lions (5-3)- Led by video game Madden Megatron, the Lions could just win the NFC North.  Add Reggie Bush, who gives legitimacy to Detroit's running game, and you get a Lions team who could easily make a playoff run.

Detroit's defense, however, could cost them a wildcard spot.  Among the league's worst, Detroit's defense is ranked #31 in average yards allowed and #21 in average points allowed. Megatron is a one man wrecking machine, but even with his 329 yd clinic against against Dallas, the Lions still only squeaked out a last second, one point win.

Key Games:  @+Chicago Bears; host +Green Bay Packers;

+Carolina Panthers (4-3)-  The 6-1 +New Orleans Saints pretty much have the NFC South locked up. Even if Carolina swept the Saints, it likely wouldn't be enough to hijack the division title. The wild card is the only way. The next two weeks will be critical for the Carolina Panthers.  Hosting the free-falling Falcons this week, and then on a tough trip west to San Francisco, will be the litmus test for Carolina.  The Panthers need to win both of these games, particularly against wild card leading San Francisco, to have a strong playoff shot.

Key Games: - host +Atlanta Falcons ; @+San Francisco 49ers

On the Outside Looking In:

+Chicago Bears (4-3) - Things have looked better for the Bears.  The hot 3-0 start cooled after a 1-3 skid, and ended in utter devastation with the losses of quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive leader Lance Briggs.  Both are expected to be out for 4-6 weeks.  The Bears were going to have a challenging run even with a health Cutler at the helm.  The Bears face a brutal three game stretch, going to Green Bay, and then hosting the Lions and Ravens.  Even if they had Cutler, the Bears may have gone 1-3 in this stretch, dropping them to 5-6 overall.  With Josh McCown manning the ship for the next month, the Bears will certainly go 1-3 and likely 0-3 while Cutler is gone, leaving them too far behind for Trestman tutored Cutler to get the Bears back in the hunt.

Even the quarterback coaching genius Marc Trestman will have problems keeping the ship floating with Josh McCown at center.  Best described by the Chicago Tribune, "It's hard to find rosy scenarios for Bears."

Key Games:  @+Green Bay Packers; host +Detroit Lions

*Right now we find it hard for any NFC East team to make a wild card run.  Look for only one team to come out of the East.

Current Division Leaders:

+Green Bay Packers
+Dallas Cowboys
+New Orleans Saints
+Seattle Seahawks

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cat Chronicles Panther vs. Falcons Video Preview

+Cat Chronicles Pilot Episode

Interested in a little post game analysis of the +Carolina Panthers vs. +Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  How about a look to our upcoming matchup against +Atlanta Falcons?  Get that fan based perspective here, where Joey Riollano and Anthony Dunn "Break Down the Box."

This is a very raw production of what is to come.  Watch, comment, and have fun.  The Panthers are not the only ones who will get better throughout the season.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Are Panther Fans Ready to Believe?

Are Panther Fans Ready to Believe?

In making a wild card run?  Winning the NFC South ? Going deep into the playoffs? Stranger things have happened.  I mean if the Panthers can get above .500, the sky's the limit right?

Few Panther fans have thought that far forward, however.  We are still trying to understand this feeling of....well...having something to play for.  While we finished strong last season, it was clear that it was too little too late.  The fans knew it; the players knew it; the coaching staff knew it.  Perhaps that's why they finished strong--no pressure.

Fan commentary in social media indicates a hesitant optimism among Panther fans.  Winning big on Thursday night against the Bucs has uplifted fan spirits, but fans are still afraid of getting burned.

Going back to the six turnover playoff game against the Cardinal's in 2009 turned the ball over a mere seven times.  We thought it can't get any worse, but then he turned it over six times in the season opener the following year.

Then there was the 2-14 season, and the first pick the following year--Cam Newton.  Fans were divide over Cam, many believing we should have drafted Patrick Peterson instead.  Cam exploded on the scene generating national attention and an optimistic fanbase.

The next year, many called for the Panthers to win the division (I was one of them).  Then 2012 happened. We looked terrible.  Cam fell out of favor with the national media as they jumped the bandwagon  over Russell Wilson and RGIII.  The Panthers finished strong, but nothing that created great optimism for Carolina fans.

And then this year happened.  Another terrible start, opening 1-3.  Fans called for Rivera's head, and the Arizona loss suggested we should start looking for a new coaching staff and focus on the draft.

Oh but ripping off  three consecutive wins, even if they were against the league's worst teams, changes things so quickly. Admit it, winning feels good--strange, but good.  You want to feel it again, but you don't want to let yourself once again naively believe in the Panthers.

Here are a few reasons that may help you believe:
  1. Wildcard Within Reach- The Panthers are in the wildcard hunt. If the playoffs started today, we are tied with Detroit and Chicago for the second wild card spot.  The 49ers, who are currently 5-2, would get a bid in the bracket.  Two things are favorable about this situation:  
    •  We are on the uptick and the NFC North is not.  The NFC North is up for grabs between 3 (GB, Chi, Det) teams with winning records.  The Bears lost Cutler.  The Lions are always underachievers, and Green Bay, currently leading the division, is physically falling apart.
    •  We get to play current wildcard leader 49ers.  This is the biggest game for us outside of the two we play against the Saints.  
  2. Rivera May Prove Us Wrong- Panther fans called for Rivera's head after losses to Buffalo and Arizona.  Rivera stayed annoyingly cool, exactly what a head coach of a talented, underperforming team needs to do.  Amidst the panic, he continued to coach up a formidable defense that positions the Panthers for success.
  3. Offense Turning a Corner- Rivera was not the only one feeling the heat.  Both offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterback Cam Newton received criticism. Shula, however, may have just figured out the Cam Newton success formula: establish him as a run threat early.  This has worked, and allowed Cam to flourish as a passer, averaging a 79% pass completion rate in the last three games.
  4. An Emerging Elite Defense- The Panthers defense has been quietly awesome. GM Gettleman looks brilliant for drafting Kwan Short and Star Lotulelei.  Hats of to the quietly successful defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott, who has coached up a stingy defense that allows on average 13 points per game on average.  Even with a young, piecemeal, unsettling secondary, McDermott utilized his strong front seven to mask their vulnerabilities.
The Reason to Believe: The Panthers are starting to believe in themselves.

The fans may not be ready to let their emotional guard down yet, but the Panther players may be.  Winners believe that they are going to win.  The Panthers haven't had a winning mentality for years.  That's why people have advocated for Rivera's firing, questioned Cam Newton's ability, and most apparently the Panthers constant squandering of winnable games. 

But now we are seeing what we have all wanted to be seeing--Cam smiling and Rivera screaming.  It may be becoming safe to BELIEVE.

Comment or retweet if you are starting to BELIEVE

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              +Cat Chronicles  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Panthers' Defense Climbs Towards #1 Ranking

Panthers' Defense Climbs Towards #1 Ranking

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece titled "Does Carolina have the NFL's Best Defense?" The piece did not argue that the Panthers defense was the NFL's best, but instead that they were quietly playing lights out and should be considered a top 3 NFL defense.

While the stats have been impressive, fans have still been weary to get behind Carolina's defense as dominate.

Once again though, the the Panthers defense punished a team into submission, holding the Bucs to 13 points. The Panthers defense seems to bend a bit every game, but never break.

Carolina's stingy defense has allowed on average only 13 points per game.  Even when everything seemed to suggest that the Bucs were going to get a late score, the defensive stars and planets came into alignment for the Panthers.  The Bucs recovered an onside kick. Davis was flagged for a personal foul, which Rivera went insane over.  Right when the Bucs seemed poised to score, Big $$ Charles Johnson forced Tampa into a long field goal situation.  The Bucs kicker then hit the field goal to put them at 16 pts, but the Panthers received  a ticky tack penalty that resulted in an automatic first down.

As fate would have it, the Panthers held the Bucs to 13pts--preserving their impressive 13 points allowed average.

Tonight's Panther defense allowed 275 yards in the air and 48 on the ground (323 yds total).  Currently, sitting at #3 in yards allowed, the Panthers ranking can only improve.

If the Seahawks and Chiefs lose this week, will the Panthers' defense be the NFL's best defense?

Statistically, they just might be.  Prior to tonight, the Panthers defense was ranked #2 in points allowed per game.  Tonight's fortune will likely propel them to a #1 ranking in this category by Monday.

The Panthers may just now be believing in themselves.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Are the Carolina Panthers the NFL's Best Defense?

Are the Carolina Panthers the NFL's Best Defense?

Had we beaten the Seahawks, the question wouldn’t be totally absurd. Panther fans should savor the defensive flavor presented in the following statistical breakdown.

OK, OK, so you may not be ready to go that far, Panther fans can celebrate a top #5 overall defense and the #1 defense in the NFC.

The eye test does not always make the Panther fan ready to leap to the defense of the Panthers’ defensive honor in the sports banter world, the stats suggest, however, we can at least when arguing with fans of divisional rivals.

Here is a quick breakdown of Carolina’s overall NFL defensive rankings in comparison with their closet NFC categorical competitor.

Defensive Stat
Panther Ranking (NFL Overall )
NFC South Top Closest Opponent Ranking (NFLOverall)
Yards Per Game
11 (Saints)
Points Allowed per game
4 (Saints)
Passing (YPG)
9 (Saints)
Rushing (YPG)
5 (Tampa)
3rd Down Stop %
8 (Saints)
10 (Saints)

I’m not ready to say that this defense has the chops of of the Peppers, Rucker, Morgan, and Witherspoon era, but this is a solid group that could become that elite defense next year--given we can hold onto Gregg Hardy.

The bright spots:

  • Luke Kuechly- Tackling machine and potentially the most instinctive defensive player since Ray Lewis.  
  • Defensive Line- Big Money and Hardy are tough on the outside, while Star and Short appear both to be capable of becoming elite tackles.
  • Bend but not Break- The Panthers defense is has not emerged as an intimidating foe.  Mediocre offenses have moved the ball on Carolina, but the defense has clearly kept Carolina in ball games.  Ranked 2nd overall in points allowed per game, Carolina’s point stingy defense allows on average 13 points per game.
The irritated eye test:

We see glimmer of hope with this bunch, but 3rd down, the red zone, and the fourth quarter consistently disappoint.  These are categories that count--a lot. Teams seem to move the ball at the worst times.  Is this because we are young in the secondary and lack a deep defensive rotation on the line and behind the linebackers?

Seattle, Buffalo, Arizona--enough said.  All beat us down the stretch.  All games we should have won.  Is this all on the defense?  Seattle and Buffalo were. You can say the Williams fumble was the problem in the opener, but Russell Wilson killed the Panthers.

There is good news, however. We can easily improve these less impressive defensive statistical categories.  Strangely, this will have to happen on the other side of the ball.  Extended drives and an effective run game will keep defense rested and create less of the situations in the long-run.

Just think Panther nation, in week four we were considering a coaching change and looking to the draft.

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