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Carolina Panthers

Ask Bryan: Holding onto hope

I still believe that we can move up in the rankings of the NFC South and possibly still win our division. Do you see us having to run the table to get in? - Yohance in Conway, S.C.

"Looking at statistics, 10-6 could get you in, or it may not," safety Kurt Coleman said. "Right now, we've just got to go 1-0 in a short week."

Coleman's comments came moments after a demoralizing loss to the Chiefs dropped Carolina to 3-6 in advance of Thursday's game against New Orleans. If the Panthers were to run the table and finish 10-6 – requiring a seven-game winning streak that's half of the 14-game streak Carolina had last season – they'd be in good shape but not set for sure. Go 6-1 to finish 9-7, and history suggests it would be tough but the current standings suggest it would be possible.

Since the NFC South came into existence in 2002 as a part of a realignment, 39 of 49 teams to go 10-6 have made the playoffs, including two of the three NFC South teams that were in that boat. However, a 10-6 team has missed the playoffs four years running.

Of the four NFC South teams to finish 9-7, just one reached the playoffs. And by the way, all seven teams to finish 8-8 missed the playoffs. There is the occasional anomaly of course, as the Panthers well know, having made the playoffs at 7-8-1 in 2014.


Could 9-7 win the NFC South this season? If the Panthers win this week with Atlanta off and beat the Falcons in Week 16, that would leave Carolina one game back with five games still to be accounted for. The next tiebreaker would be division record, and the best Carolina can do is tie Atlanta at 3-3. The Falcons would have to lose to the Saints in Week 17 for that to happen, and then Carolina likely would be ahead in the next tiebreaker if both teams were 9-7 (record against common opponents).

"The bottom line," Coleman said, "is we have no more room for error."

Another lead the Panthers gave away. When will they learn to put teams away? With 29 seconds left, you throw a pass and risk a fumble or interception? It's time for the offensive coordinator to try something new. It's time to let Cam loose. – Jamaal in Charlotte

Protecting leads has been a problem at times for this team, with Sunday's loss to the Chiefs marking the third game in which Carolina has surrendered a double-digit lead (Week 1 at Denver, Week 3 vs. Minnesota). Not that it will make anyone feel any better, but Kansas City is now 2-1 in games in which it trailed by 17 or more points, while the rest of the league is 2-52.

As for your thoughts about how Carolina handled the final 29 seconds of a tied game, head coach Ron Rivera shared some interesting perspective the day after. You say you want Mike Shula to turn Newton loose, but that's exactly what was happening there, trusting his the quarterback to make good decisions while trying to connect for a big play to get into field goal range. The gamble backfired, which is one of the risks of being aggressive, but Newton isn't being held back.

Second-guessing is a cottage industry in sports, as there's nothing easier in the world than saying a team should have done something else after what they did didn't work. The Panthers were aggressive on a third-and-18 in field goal range at the end of a 20-play drive but were sacked as a result, and were aggressive when Newton threw on third down early in the fourth quarter only to have it turn into a pick-six. The post-outcome answers are obvious – run the ball and kick the field goal, then throw the ball away and punt - but hindsight can't help in the moment, of course.

I live in Germany and am a big Panthers fan. I would like to know who will solve the problem at center? – Adam in Baden-Baden, Germany

Getting a five-time Pro Bowler would be a good place to start. Ryan Kalil returned to practice on a limited basis Monday after sitting out the last two games and last two weeks of practices with a shoulder injury. Gino Gradkowski, who has filled in fairly well, missed practice Monday with the same knee injury that had his status last week in question.

If neither is able to play Thursday, versatile lineman Chris Scott stands at the ready if needed. Undrafted rookie Tyler Larsen, predominantly a backup at guard, did make a school-record 52 consecutive starts at center for Utah State and was a three-time all-conference selection.

View the top photos from Panthers vs. Chiefs by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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