Are the Carolina Panthers the most dangerous team in the NFC?

Carolina PanthersAnybody catch the Panthers’ 38-23 win over the Buccaneers on Monday night? If you didn’t, you missed ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew waxing poetically about how Carolina could wind up being the No. 1 seed in the NFC. (Seriously, I know it’s their job to create storylines but I thought the trio of Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser and Ron Jaworski were going to fall out of the booth trying to make love to the Panthers.)

Carolina’s win over NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay was impressive. They ran the ball extremely well (like, 299 yards well) against one of the best defenses in the NFC, Steve Smith made big plays and for the most part, the defense was solid.

But before we even remotely toy with the idea that the Panthers will leapfrog the New York Giants in the NFC, maybe we should slow down and take dose of reality.

Yes, the Panthers’ win over the Bucs to capture first place in the NFC South was imposing and dare I say, dominant. But NFC South teams are now 0-10 on the road against other NFC South teams, so while Carolina’s victory was a nice statement, it wasn’t necessarily shock.

Tampa has often struggled on the road throughout this season. If it weren’t for double-digit come from behind wins against Kansas City and Detroit, the Bucs would be 7-6 right now. They’re currently allowing close to 24 points a game on the road this year, compared to just 12.6 at home. For as good as Monte Kiffin’s defense has looked this season, it’s simply been a different unit on the road than it has been at home.

But let’s get back to Carolina. The Panthers are currently atop the exciting NFC South at 10-3 and are home against the Broncos this Sunday, then at the Giants and at the Saints to end the year. Those are three winnable games, but a daunting final stretch to say the least. Assuming they can beat the Broncos this week (which won’t be easy coming off a short week and with Denver trying to clinch the AFC West), does anyone see this team beating both the Giants and Saints on the road? New Orleans might be knocked out of the playoff race by then, but they would certainly love the opportunity to play spoiler against a division rival.

The Panthers are definitely a playoff team and one that could make noise when the postseason starts. They have a veteran quarterback, an unbelievable playmaker in Smith and a running game that could shred any opponent. But let’s relax a little on the idea of them earning home field advantage throughout the postseason. The Giants are still the best team in the NFC (if not in the league) and the Bucs and Falcons still have a shot to upend Carolina in the division. And teams can look vastly different from game to game in the NFL.

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