In Week 1 of the NFL, the Panthers won against the Jets, 19-14. It wasn’t a great win for Carolina, the Jets had rallied back late in the game to make it uncomfortably close, but a win was a win.
Week 2 was different, as Carolina won against their divisional foe, the Saints, 26-7 in a blowout. It was without question a bit of an outlier result, the Saints were missing eight of their coaches, but as I said before, a win is a win.
Week 3 on Thursday Night felt a little more reassuring for Panthers fans. The Panthers went into the half only up 7-6, having lost Jaycee Horn and Christian McCaffery, and Carolina then found their way offensively and won the game 24-9.
The Panthers are just one of seven undefeated players: Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of course, the Panthers.
Now, according to 538, the six other teams have pretty good odds of making the playoffs: LV 55%, DEN 66%, SF 76%, LAR 73%, ARZ 60%, and TB 88%. The Panthers are just at 56%, up from 49% after Week 2. 56% may not seem very good, but the Panthers started the season with just a 25% chance of making the postseason.
I have been saying that the Panthers are a dark horse to make the playoffs ever since they acquired Sam Darnold, a take that most people have disagreed with. But three weeks in, the Panthers are 3-0 and have looked better than even I expected.
So I want to explore the Panther’s chances of making the playoffs, going game by game to figure out if they have a legitimate shot like I think they do.
The Good News
Panthers @ Cowboys
This one is going to the Cowboys. I like the Panther’s offense at full strength, and in my opinion, the Carolina defense is better than Dallas’s. But with CMC out (I’m assuming of 3 weeks), the Panthers will struggle on offense, and the Cowboys have a great offense.
Panthers Record: 3-1
Eagles @ Panthers
I genuinely like the Panthers in this one. The Eagles had a good showing against the Falcons but based on their game against the 49ers, that is likely a one-off performance.
Panthers Record: 4-1
Vikings @ Panthers
I do think that the Vikings are better than their current record would indicate. They lost to the Bengals in OT on a fumble, and then the Cardinals on a crazy missed field goal. So I have the Panthers losing this one because they’re missing CMC.
Panthers Record: 4-2
Panthers @ Giants
Assuming CMC is back, I am taking the Panthers here. The Panthers arguably have the better defense, and I like the Panthers’ offense more. So despite this one being a challenging road game, I think the Panthers take this one.
Panthers Record: 5-2
Panthers @ Falcons
Based on their two performances thus far, the Falcons are going to be pretty bad this season. They have been blown out against the Eagles and then the Buccaneers, and I don’t see things getting better for them.
Panthers Record: 6-2
The Bad News
Patriots @ Panthers
This is where the honeymoon phase ends for the Panthers. I think the Patriots have a good, albeit slow, offense that doesn’t turn the ball over a lot and a great defense, and I think the Patriots are just a tier above the Panthers.
Panthers Record: 6-3
Panthers @ Cardinals
I know it may not be a large sample size, but I think that Kyler Murray is making himself a case for MVP. Despite my prediction that the Panthers will have a good defense (and the Panthers winning this matchup last year), the Cardinals will be too overwhelming.
Panthers Record: 6-4
Washington @ Panthers
Carolina won this matchup last season, and I think they have improved their roster significantly. Washington also seems to have regressed on defense, so I think the Panthers can get this one at home despite their offensive improvements.
Panthers Record: 7-4
Panthers @ Dolphins
I think the Panthers can win this one. The Miami offense has been pretty lackluster, and I anticipate it staying that way. My only concern would be the Dolphin defense, which can cause the Panthers to have some fits.
Panthers Record: 8-4
Falcons @ Panthers
As I said earlier, I like the Panthers more than I do the Falcons, so they should be able to win this one. The Panthers should be able to score on a bad Falcons offense while they can slow a Falcons offense that has struggled so far through the season.
Panthers Record: 9-4
Panthers @ Bills
The Bills are hard to figure out; after they struggled against the Steelers, they blew out the Dolphins. The Bills’ offense is likely closer to their performance against the Dolphins than the Steelers’, so I take the Bills here.
Panthers Record: 9-5
Buccaneers @ Panthers
Tampa Bay is genuinely overwhelming. They have a great offense and an incredible defense and genuinely have a shot at going 17-0. This one goes to the Buccaneers.
Panthers Record: 9-6
Panthers @ Saints
I genuinely think that the Panthers blew out the Saints for the sole reason they were missing eight coaches. If you told me that the Panthers won that game, I would believe you, but that margin was too much. I think that the Saints win this one, and the two teams split the series.
Panthers Record: 9-7
Panthers @ Buccaneers
Much like in the first game in the series, the Buccaneers are simply the better team. Much like last year, the Panthers get the sweep.
Panthers Record: 9-8
Even with a seventh playoff spot, 9-8 isn’t good enough for the Panthers to make the playoffs. If I thought the Panthers could flip into wins in a game or two, I would pick Minnesota, which puts them at 10-7 and increases their chances at making the postseason.
Don’t get me wrong, 9-8 or 10-7 is good, considering the Panthers picked at the eighth spot in last years’ draft.
But if I had to make a yes or no prediction, I would say the Panthers miss the postseason, but barely.