The Carolina Panthers began the season 0-2. Since then, they have gone 5-2 to vault themselves into playoff contention in the NFC.
Carolina’s recent run of impressive play coincided with the insertion of second-year quarterback Kyle Allen into the starting lineup. While Allen hasn’t posted exactly earth-shattering numbers, the Panthers have been winning.
Heading into the 2019 season, Carolina was considered to be a fringe playoff team. That is precisely where the Panthers stand through 10 weeks — although they have certainly not taken the route that most people anticipated.
Cam Newton went down after Week 2 with a foot injury, which looked like the end of the Panthers’ season. Instead, they have responded by rallying around Allen, who is in his second year.
Still, it’s difficult to envision this Carolina club making the playoffs. Here are four reasons why:
4. Defensive Struggles
When the Panthers are good, they typically have a good defense. 2019 is not one of those times.
Carolina ranks just 20th in the NFL in yards allowed and 22nd in scoring defense thus far through the 2019 season. With a pair of matchups with the New Orleans Saints and a game against the Seattle Seahawks on the horizon, that’s a problem.
Outside of linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Panthers don’t boast any elite talent on the defensive side of the ball. While they do lead the league with 36 sacks, they have had a ton of trouble stopping the run — they rank 29th in the NFL in the run-stopping category.
Carolina isn’t exactly Cincinnati Bengals bad on the defensive end. However, because their offense has not been great outside of Christian McCaffrey, it needs to be better at getting stops. As previously stated, that is something the Panthers have struggled with at times this year.
3. The Schedule
The Panthers’ schedule over their final seven games is brutal.
As previously alluded to, Carolina has two meetings with the Saints and a matchup with the Seahawks on their slate. They also are set to battle the Indianapolis Colts on the road in Week 16.
Yes, the Panthers will get the Washington Redskins in Week 12. They also do have a couple tilts with the Atlanta Falcons — but the Falcons are a divisional opponent, so regardless of how poorly they have played this season, at least one of those games seems likely to be difficult. Atlanta’s offense isn’t exactly awful, either.
Given the teams in front of them, Carolina will probably have to win 11 games to snag a playoff berth, meaning they will have to go 6-1 down the stretch. Heck, let’s say 10 games gets them in. In that case, they’ll have to go 5-2.
Carolina may not be capable of doing that with their schedule.
2. Quarterback Play
Sure, Allen was a whole lot of fun in Week 3 when he threw for four touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals. However, since then, he has been very up and down. There has been more bad than good.
As a matter of fact, since the Arizona game, Allen has thrown six touchdowns and five interceptions, with all five of his picks coming over the last three weeks.
In his last five games, Allen has completed less than 60-percent of his passes three times. On the season overall, he has only thrown for 300 yards once.
That doesn’t exactly seem like a recipe for sustained success.
Yes, Panthers have been winning of late, and they have beaten some competent teams. But, the intensified pressure of the playoff hunt is a different animal, especially when you are playing some of the best clubs in the NFL along the way.
1. The Teams in Front of Them
Perhaps the Panthers’ biggest problem is something they can’t even really control: the teams in front of them in the NFC standings.
Barring a miracle, Carolina is not winning the NFC South (that goes to New Orleans). If the Panthers are going to make the playoffs, they are going to have to do so via a wildcard berth. The problem: the Seahawks (8-2) and Vikings (7-3) currently own the conference’s two wildcard slots.
Carolina would have to leapfrog one of those two clubs while also fighting off the loser of the NFC East race, as both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are sitting at 5-4, just like the Panthers.
Even if Carolina goes a perfect 7-0 the rest of the way, it will still be relying on other teams to lose.