Eight games into the NFL season and what do we know about the Carolina Panthers?

  • They’re 3-5 – not exactly the numbers you want to see in the first half of the season if you’re trying to nail down a playoff spot.
  • There have been no easy wins, but there haven’t been any blowout losses, either… save the opening game against Philly (38-10). • The defense is solid and has improved game-by-game (9th in the NFL).
  • The running game is great (3rd in the NFL).
  • The passing game… well, I’ve said enough. Steve Smith, who recently spoke on this topic and several others on an Atlanta radio station (790 – The Zone), can handle this one: “I guess you could say the passing game isn’t up to par as it usually is,” he recently said.

Ok, that’s enough of dwelling on the past. With the second half of the season kicking off, Carolina has come full circle and will battle the Atlanta Falcons (5-3) again in the QCity.

Defensively, the Panthers were licking their wounds this week after being torched by the Saints for 24 second-half points and 330 yards passing from quarterback Drew Brees. If that weren’t enough, linebacker Thomas Davis, one of the team’s leading tacklers and its most consistent defender, is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Speaking of consistency, Julius Peppers had one tackle against New Orleans…and that was it. It’s feast or famine with Pep, and it’s really become an old hat, especially in a season like this.

Last year the Panthers played well enough on the defensive side to win games whether he showed up or not, but his penchant for being MIA this year has had adverse effects. A good game by Pep doesn’t guarantee a win, but when he’s active there’s no doubt that everyone else picks up their game.

With Davis out, it’s even more imperative that Pep picks up the energy and effort in each game from now on…and guess what, Pep? You can start with the game against Atlanta!

Well, let’s move on to the other side of the ball. If there’s one thing I look forward to seeing, it’s the match-up between two of the best running backs in the league – Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and the Falcons’ Michael Turner.

Both backs have been on a tear the last couple of games: Williams – 149 or more yards with a pair of touchdowns. Turner – more than 150 yards and three scores. I’ve got a feeling you’ll see some of the same come Sunday.

Quarterback match-up? Jake Delhomme is coming off another game where he threw no interceptions – that’s good. But he isn’t doing anything else to help win games – that’s bad.

The Falcon’s Matt Ryan is trying to stay on the right track after getting derailed for a three=game stretch where he threw seven picks and Atlanta dropped two of the games.

So who wins? The x-factor may be found in the huge dent in Carolina’s armor.

Not having Davis available is going to hurt immensely in Carolina’s efforts in defending against the run and the pass, especially if the $1 million-a-game man doesn’t show up (yes, that would be you, Julius).

Offensively, Atlanta has good balance between the run and pass. The Panthers, on the other hand, have two backs in Williams and Jonathan Stewart who can carry the load on the ground, but if they get down early, Carolina will have to throw the ball, which is what they’re trying to avoid as much as possible.

I don’t expect to see the Panthers with a lead at halftime, which means they’ll have to play catch-up…and Carolina doesn’t do that well. It’s another loss, 24-14.

Damon Ford is a public relations professional who has worked in the public and private sectors in Charlotte. He is 4-4 in predicting Panthers games.

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