Saturday, October 25, 2008

The weekend is underway

Saturday morning has arrived, college games will begin in about an hour, and then the beauty that is week 8 in the NFL commences on Sunday. A break down of the Panthers and Cardinals for your reading pleasure.

They are no longer the joke of the NFL (that title belongs to the Detroit Lions), as they sit 4-2 and lead the NFC West. Mind you, leading the NFC West (with Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis) is akin to being Valedictorian of Summer School, but hey, first place is still first place. The Cards have gotten Kurt Warner to look like he did back in his Rams days (with maybe as much receiver talent), but they don't have that Marshall Faulk runner. Arizona will want to throw it all day long, but Carolina must, at least at first, pay attention to the Cards desires to run it occasionally. The Panther defense has been quit good against the run so far, and I would imagine that will continue Sunday. The pressure this week falls on the Panthers secondary. Larry Fitzgerald is a monster, and Anquan Boldin will be back for the first time since September 28th. Boldin will likely be back in a limited role, but he'll be on the field, which makes him very dangerous.

Defensively, the Cardinals are middle of the road. 14th overall, 11th against the run, 20th against the pass. By the numbers, Carolina should have success throwing it more than running it. Don't look for that balance to take place. Carolina will try to pound the ball on the ground, in spite of missing Jeff Otah and Ryan Kalil for the 3rd straight game. Jeremy Bridges and Geoff Hangartner will likely get the starting nods at RG and C respectively (barring a miracle healing by Otah and Kalil in the next 36 hours). The offensive line has had their starting 5 o-linemen on the field for some ridiculously low number (I want to say it is 41, but don't hold me to that) this season. Yet they are 5-2, with a running game that has been slightly better than average (against the league numbers). The Panthers will face a young Arizona secondary that is active and can make plays. Jake Delhomme has done a nice job of managing the football, and not making overly dangerous throws. Expect more of that this weekend.

This is an all important week for the Panthers. A win over Arizona gets them to 6-2 on the season, and they head into their bye week (a perfect time--squarely in the middle of the schedule). In the time I have covered this team, the Panthers are 4-2 in the game before the bye week, and 3-3 in the game after the bye week. Twice (in 2003 and 2005) did the Panthers win both games, and once (2002) they lost both games. What are the connections? 2003 the Panthers went to the Super Bowl and in 2005, they went to the NFC Championship game (and were so banged up against Seattle, they had little chance). Not that the bye week is all that important in the standings--but in the minds of the players, winning before the bye gives them a good week mentally away from the game.

I like Carolina's chances this week, and I know it sounds homer-ish, but seriously, the Panthers are perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the NFL. At 5-2, very few national media types are even thinking of the Panthers, for a number of reasons. The Cowboys are imploding, Tom Brady has an infected leg, there is talk of Peyton Manning's formerly infected leg, a report that 10-15 (or more) players failed substance tests, Kellen Winslow Jr. being suspended by the Browns, and so on. So many off the field issues are preventing folks from talking football.

That likely suits the Panthers just fine. To am man, they would likely say that if no on noticed them until Super Bowl Sunday, that would be quite alright.

Mike Solarte

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