The Carolina Panthers’ implosion is showing no signs of stopping. They suffered their fourth consecutive loss on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Carolina barely stayed in the game, with Cam Newton throwing four interceptions in the 24-17 loss.
This wasn’t supposed to be the part of the schedule when they skidded. They needed to surge through this stretch (Pittsburgh, Detroit, Seattle, Tampa Bay), as they have two games against the New Orleans Saints in the next four weeks. The Panthers will also see the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons.
It’s an ugly look for Carolina, which is headed for a likely 2-6 finish after starting 6-2. And if they finish 8-8, they will almost certainly miss the playoffs.
It’s possible the Panthers could steal a game from the Saints, but there’s little chance they can win both games, especially considering how poorly Carolina is playing. What’s more likely is that the Saints sweep the Panthers. Carolina has to hold on for dear life in their games against the Browns and Falcons, who both have been brilliant and bumbling at various points during the season. The problem is that the best version of bad teams have showed up against Carolina. The Browns could easily beat the Panthers in Cleveland in Week 14.
The Panthers were shaping up to be one of the most exciting teams in the NFL. Christian McCaffrey looks like one of the most challenging weapons to stop in the league. Rookie receiver D.J. Moore is beginning to look comfortable in the pros after a quiet start.
But tight end Greg Olsen injured his foot on Sunday. Receiver Devin Funchess has looked significantly worse as the team’s No. 1 option this year than he did as their No. 2 option in previous years. The organization also fired a handful of assistant coaches on Monday, for better or for worse. Newton is playing carelessly with the football, and the defense is slipping, probably in part because the offense isn’t doing them any favors.
It’s not impossible for the Panthers to pull out of their nosedive. But the NFC’s middle class is crowded, even if it’s also slumping. Carolina couldn’t afford to lose during this stretch with two likely losses to New Orleans on the horizon. They’ve failed to show toughness over the last four games, and the toughest part of the season is just getting started.