Big thanks to niners84 for putting together a viewing guide based on potential playoff possibilities. That alone is enough to keep fans intrigued for now. The 49ers face one of their toughest battles of the year, heading into Philadelphia to take on what has become a rather red hot Eagles squad. A win would be monstrous, a loss fairly devastating. But either way, it should make for great viewing.
However, I'm not here to bring up playoff discussions as we've certainly got plenty of spots for that on this site. Oh no, my friends, I'm here for our latest edition of Panthers Watch 2009. The Carolina Panthers had us scared for a little while this past Sunday, but thankfully the Patriots pulled it out. I think for many folks, rooting for the Patriots and then seeing them lose to Carolina would have been rather tough to stomach.
With that loss the Panthers dropped to 5-8, with a remaining schedule of home against Minnesota, at the Giants and home against New Orleans. They could spring some upsets, but let's hope for the best (or is it the worst)? Minnesota has not yet clinched their division, and has Philly closing fast for a potential first round bye, so the Vikings will not be easing up this week. The Giants did lose at home to Philly, but the Eagles are playing incredibly well. The 49ers need a Giants loss over the remaining 3 games, but let's just hope it's not this game, right? Finally, New Orleans is a tough one to call at this point for one reason. If New Orleans is undefeated heading into Week 17, I'd imagine they'll play for the win. If they've lost a game, it's possible they'll still need a win to clinch home field throughout the playoffs since Minnesota is 11-2. We'll just have to wait and see.
We know we're rooting against Carolina. However, given the Panthers rise in the draft order, I thought it would be useful to look at the schedules of some of the teams around them. The current draft order around Carolina, courtesy of Walter Football and updated today, is as follows:
1. Tampa Bay (1-12)
2. St. Louis (1-12)
3. Detroit (2-11)
4. Cleveland (2-11)
5. Kansas City (3-10)
6. Washington (4-9)
7. Oakland (4-9)
8. Buffalo (5-8)
9. Denver (from Chicago (5-8))
10. Seattle (5-8)
11. San Francisco (from Carolina (5-8))
Every team after that is at least 6-7. Given that we're hoping for a Carolina sweep this final month, we'll just look at teams ahead of them after the jump.
The Buccaneers and Rams are removed from the equation because they've guaranteed records worse than Carolina. For the remaining teams, I don't know their strength of schedule numbers off the top of my head so we won't address that and its effect on draft order ties.
Detroit Lions (2-11): The Lions get Arizona, @ SF and Chicago to close out the season. Does anybody really see them winning all three of those games? If you do, I think you might be a little crazy. So we'll assume they're finishing with a better pick than the Panthers.
Cleveland Browns (2-11): The Browns wrap up the season at Kansas City, home against Oakland, and home against Jacksonville. That's not a walk in the park, but I actually could see Cleveland winning out. I know they've only won two games, but all three of those games are eminently winnable. Jacksonville is probably the toughest of the three games and they've struggled quite a bit on the road. Given how awful the Chiefs are, and the fact that the Raiders will often find a way to blow this kind of road game, Cleveland could conceivably tie the Panthers. Again, I don't know how where their strength of schedule falls, but let's hope it's tougher than Carolina.
Kansas City (3-10): The Chiefs get Cleveland at home, head to Cincinnati, and then head to Denver to wrap up the season. The Cleveland game is a toss-up, although I still don't know how the Chiefs have managed 3 wins this season. The toughest call at this point might be that Denver game to end the season. Depending on how the next two weeks play out, Denver may be locked into a wild card spot and looking to rest their players.
Washington (4-9): The Redskins have a beast of a schedule to wrap up the season getting the Giants at home, Dallas at home and San Diego on the road. Of course NFC East battles are always dogfights (no pun intended Michael Vick), and even the worst NFC East team can often spring an upset at home against the rest of the East. Even more important is the fact that if the 49ers are still in the playoff picture, they'll be looking for Washington to spring upsets on the Giants and Cowboys. That'll definitely be tough in back to back weeks, but crazier things have happened. San Diego becomes a tough call at the end since they may have clinched a first round bye at that point. Let's hope they're resting players week 17.
Oakland (4-9): Looks like we have to root for the greatness of the Raiduhhhhs! The Raiders finish off 2009 at Denver, at Cleveland and home against the Baltimore. Given that we are talking about the Raiders, I honestly wouldn't be shocked at any result to finish the season. Depending on strength of schedule, we may only need one win from them. Given the Browns potential finish, the best option right now would be for the Raiders to beat Denver and/or Baltimore and lose to the Browns.
Buffalo (5-8): The Bills get the pleasure of hosting New England, heading to Atlanta and hosting Indianapolis. New England has been rather inconsistent, so an upset this weekend is possible. Atlanta arguably could have Matt Ryan and Michael Turner back by week 16. Of course, if they lose to the Jets this weekend and fall just about completely out of the playoff race, do they shut down Ryan and Turner for the rest of the season? This game is winnable for the Bills, but will be a tough one even without Ryan/Turner. As for the Colts, I fully expect them to be 15-0 at this point and gunning for undefeated. Of course even with the Jim Sorgi show, I think they could beat Buffalo. Also, based on this draft order, the Bills currently have the edge for pick purposes in strength of schedule over Carolina.
Denver (from Chicago (5-8)): The Bears go to Baltimore, host Minnesota and finish at Detroit. At this point Chicago has the tiebreaker over Carolina, so winning at Detroit would certainly help the Panthers Watch cause. Of course, Jay Cutler has been rather atrocious on the road, so that's definitely not a gimme. As with most any other division, intra-divisional home games can bring out the best in folks (see Cleveland over Pittsburgh last Thursday). So maybe we see an upset over Minnesota mixed in.
Seattle (5-8): The Seahawks finish with Tampa Bay at home, Green Bay on the road and Tennessee at home. I'd imagine the Packers will wipe the floor with the Seahawks on the frozen tundra. However, given that the Seahawks took an axe to the 49ers playoff hopes last week (not that the 49ers didn't deserve most of the blame), maybe they can bounce back with a win over Tampa Bay and/or Tennessee. They should be able to beat the Bucs at least given how abysmal they've been this season. Again, they currently hold the tiebreaker over Carolina, so the more wins the better.
A quick look at this and you're looking at a pick between #3 and #11. Detroit is not likely to win all 3 remaining, putting Carolina somewhere from #4 to #11. Say Cleveland does as expected and can't win out, that moves us to somewhere from #5 to #11. If Carolina were to lose out (no guarantee), I'm thinking the pick falls somewhere between #5 and #9. I'm hoping for a Seattle win over Tampa Bay and a Chicago win over the Lions. Nothing is guaranteed in this league, but we can still hope.
Panthers Watch will return this Sunday night in prime time as the Panthers host the Minnesota Vikings on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Once again we have to root for the QB who shall remain nameless.