Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Three reasons why the Panthers will win

Moving to the NFC, here are three reasons why the Carolina Panthers will beat Seattle:

1. They are the most experienced team left. Start with the most important position – Jake Delhomme is the only remaining quarterback who has played in a Super Bowl, and only Ben Roethlisberger has also played in a conference championship game. Obviously, a more proven quarterback isn’t a guarantee of victory, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Thirteen of the Panthers’ starters also played on the Super Bowl team, and if not for injuries to the likes of Stephen Davis and Kris Jenkins, the number would be higher. Experience matters most when a team is on the road, evidenced by the Panthers’ 8-2 road record and impressive victories at New York and Chicago. Though Seattle has a perfect home record, Carolina is better equipped to play a conference championship game on the road than any of the NFC playoff teams were. The Panthers are an amazing 4-0 in road playoff games under John Fox.

2. Steve Smith is playing at a bionic level. Maybe he didn’t get enough respect in finishing out of the top five in the MVP voting, and he’s determined to get an MVP trophy in the Super Bowl instead. Whatever the case, Smith has been the best offensive player in these playoffs. He has 40 receptions for 706 yards in six career playoff games, with 22 of those catches coming this year. And it’s easy to see the impact Smith has on the Panthers, when you consider that they reached Super Bowl XXXVIII, following a season when he caught 88 passes, then missed the playoffs entirely last year when he was lost for the season with a broken leg in Week 1. This year, Smith has been back and better than ever, and the Panthers look like a Super Bowl team again. His blend of speed, quickness and surprising strength – just ask Charles Tillman – make him a threat to do virtually anything. He has been successful going deep, catching the quick outlet pass, or running the football. As a result, even a strong cover corner like Seattle’s Marcus Trufant will have trouble stopping him.

3. Carolina has the best defense remaining. The Panthers had the third stingiest defense in the NFL this year, allowing just 283 yards a game, and they also had the third-best turnover ratio, at plus-16. That’s a credit not only to coach John Fox, but also to the team’s exceptional depth across the defense. Jenkins, a fierce run-stopper, was lost for the season in Week 1, and Jordan Carstens stepped in. The Panthers’ allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the league. Former Seahawk Ken Lucas signed with the team as a free agent, allowing Ricky Manning, a starter in the Panthers’ last Super Bowl, to shift to nickel back. Promising rookie Thomas Davis, a first-round pick, backs up at both safety positions. This is a unit that takes chances that pay off frequently – witness the six turnovers they’ve forced in the postseason and another that was taken away from them against Chicago on a questionable call. With the Bears out of the playoffs, this is the team most likely to ride its defense to a championship.

The final installment on Thursday – why the Seahawks will win.



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