The Carolina Panthers look to salvage what’s left of this season when they host the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Neither team has been officially eliminated from playoff contention, but a loss on Sunday, or wins by other teams, will put an end to their year without a shot at the Super Bowl.
Luke Kuechly Returning?
The Panthers best player returned to practice to Thursday after missing the last two games with a concussion. That doesn’t mean that he’ll be playing on Sunday, and I’m not sure the Panthers should even bother.
This is a lost season for Carolina. The best they can hope for is 8-8, and unless a lot of teams falter in these final four weeks, 8-8 won’t be good enough for the playoffs. So, why risk Kuechly? He suffered a concussion last year that kept him out over a month and another concussion this year. There’s no point in putting him at risk for a third concussion in just over a year.
Would my tune be different if the Panthers had a chance at the playoffs? Probably, but that’s not the scenario. The Panthers need to think of the long term health of arguably the best defensive player in the league. You have to weigh the risk and the reward of playing him. There’s a medium to high risk that he suffers another concussion, and there’s almost no reward.
If Kuechly is cleared, he’s going to play. You can’t keep that guy off the field. And if he plays, I’ll be happy that he’s back on the field because I love watching Luke play football. But I’ll also cringe whenever he goes helmet to helmet with a running back and wonder to myself, “is it worth it?”
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Don’t Pack It In
If Kuechly plays, one thing no Panthers fan has to worry about with him is how hard he’s going to play. Even if this season hasn’t gone as planned and even if I think it’s not worth it for him to play the rest of this year, I know that Luke is going to give 100% on every single play.
I hope I can say the same for the rest of the Panthers at 1:00 PM on Sunday. The team looked absolutely lifeless against Seattle. From the moment it was announced that Cam Newton would be bench for the first series to Derek Anderson’s interception on the first offensive play to Seattle’s 92-yard drive to make it 10-0. The team looked like they would rather be anywhere else in the world, the start reflected that, and it didn’t get any better from there.
The team needs to show some type of fire from the start. Even if it means Cam dancing and dabbing again. He’ll get ridiculed for it because Cam gets ridiculed for everything, but at least it will show that he’s still having fun out there and that he still wants to be on the field.
Build On Something
Nothing went right for Carolina against Seattle. Outside of one big play to Ted Ginn, I can’t tell you a single good thing the Panthers did that game. Against a traveling Chargers team, the Panthers have a chance to rebound. And they need to rebound. A win would be nice, just for confidence purposes, but really they just need something to go right.
Whether it’s protecting Cam Newton, re-establishing the run, Cam getting on the same page with Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin, stopping the run, pressuring Philip Rivers, creating turnovers, it doesn’t really matter. The Panthers just need to do something well and be able to build on something heading into the final three games.