NFL Playoffs rooting guide for Panthers fans

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CHARLOTTE – The Panthers' season may be over, but there's still plenty of football to watch on TV. After a slate of incredibly dramatic wild card games, things look like they'll only get better in the NFL playoffs divisional round this weekend.

So, if you're a free agent looking for a team to pull for until the Panthers hit the gridiron again next season, we've got you covered. We're breaking down all eight of the remaining playoff contenders and why Panthers fans may or may not want to root for them.

Remember, these rooting interests are only temporary. So too is the Panthers' absence from the playoffs.

THE NFC

49ers

(1) San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are the top seed in the NFC after finishing the year 13-3, making them the clear frontrunner on this side of things. The historic franchise has already taken home five Lombardi trophies over the years, but it's been a while since the 49ers' last Super Bowl win in 1995.

Third-year head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn't ever made it to the big game as the head man, but he did infamously fall short as the offensive coordinator with the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. A trip to the Super Bowl this year could offer him a shot at redemption. As far as players go, there aren't any former Panthers on the 49ers' roster, so it's not like there's an easy pick to sway Panthers fans into rooting for San Francisco.

As a result, Panthers fans can choose to treat the 49ers one of two ways. We understand it takes some time for wounds to heal, so if it's still too soon, you can decide to root against the 49ers because of the 51-13 beatdown they put on the Panthers earlier this year to kick off Carolina's late-season demise. Or, if you want to cheer for a young head coach and quarterback and have very high odds at picking the right team, then San Francisco might be the team for you. Plus, if the 49ers end up Super Bowl champs then maybe, just maybe, it makes that Week 8 loss a little more manageable?

Packers

(2) Green Bay Packers

The Packers present an interesting dilemma for the Panther faithful.

On the one hand, they're another team that defeated Carolina earlier this year – and it was a heartbreaking one at that. On the other, they're pretty easy to like. Green Bay is the third-oldest franchise in the NFL, and they took home the hardware way back in Super Bowl I. How fitting would it be for the Pack to take the title again in the NFL's 100th season? That would be a storybook ending for head coach Matt LaFleur's first season in charge.

The Packers already have four Super Bowl titles to their name, the last of which came in 2011 over the Pittsburgh Steelers. With franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers directing the offense, Green Bay is dangerous enough to win it all.

If you can find it in your heart to forgive the Packers for their earlier transgressions against the Panthers this season, then Green Bay is a pretty solid team to temporarily support.

Seahawks

(5) Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks...

After a decade full of down-to-the-wire games against Seattle, the Seahawks have essentially become the Panthers' biggest non-NFC South rival. Can't imagine Panthers fans will be rooting for them anytime soon.

I get it, Russell Wilson is one of the most exciting players to watch, Beast Mode is back in the backfield, and at 11-5, the Seahawks can somehow be seen as an underdog as the No. 5 seed. Still, cheering for Seattle just doesn't feel right.

Plus, there are a few Carolina ties on the roster. Wilson played the majority of his college ball at North Carolina State University, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a local product from Rock Hill, S.C. before heading to the University of South Carolina. As a bonus, former Panthers' tight end Ed Dickson plays for the Seahawks, too, but don't expect to see him on the field – he's on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Most Panthers fans will likely steer clear of rooting for the Seahawks anyway, but as long as you promise to come back to the Panthers, we'll let it slide if you side with Seattle for now.

Vikings

(6) Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings get credit for stunning the hated New Orleans Saints last weekend in the Wild Card round...how many Panthers fans jumped on their bandwagon then? They gained quite a few by breaking the Saints' hearts last year as well. (Yeah, you like that! - Kirk Cousins voice)

Second to the Packers in the NFC North, the Vikings barely made the cut as the final wild card team. As the No. 6 seed, that makes Minnesota the go-to underdog pick if that's a factor in your rooting preference. Add in the fact that the Vikings have been to four Super Bowls and come away empty-handed every time, and suddenly you've got a pretty compelling dark horse.

It's a long shot – only two six seeds have ever gone on to win the Super Bowl – but it's one worthy of your support.

THE AFC

Ravens

(1) Baltimore Ravens

According to Vegas, the Ravens are the frontrunner to win the Super Bowl, regardless of conference. Of course, it helps when you have the favorite to take home the NFL MVP on your team.

In his second season, quarterback Lamar Jackson has made Ravens football must-watch TV this year with countless dazzling runs and did-you-see-that plays. With a season as illustrious as the one Jackson has put together, it's safe to say the Ravens have already gained quite a few new fans, so it's not like anyone would notice if you jumped on the bandwagon, too.

Ravens head man John Harbaugh is one of the league's longest-tenured current head coaches, currently on his 12th season in Baltimore. During that time, he's made eight playoff appearances, including bringing the franchise its second Super Bowl title in 2012. With perennial AFC powers like the Patriots and the Steelers out of the conversation, Harbaugh and the Ravens boast the most prestigious team to root for on this side of the playoff picture.

Chiefs

(2) Kansas City Chiefs

You can't talk about must-see football without bringing up Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. While this year hasn't been as stellar as his MVP season in 2018, it was still enough to lead the Chiefs to a 12-4 record and a fourth straight AFC West title.

Head coach Andy Reid has been calling the shots in Kansas City for six years now and he's made the playoffs in five of them. However, he has yet to get over the hump and make it to the Super Bowl. If Reid can get there this year, he has a shot at winning his first ever Super Bowl as a head coach, and the Chiefs' first since Super Bowl IV way back in January 1970.

And honestly, a Mahomes-Jackson duel in the AFC Championship would be pretty epic.

Texans

(4) Houston Texans

The Texans are the only team left in the playoffs this year to have never played in the Super Bowl. In fact, they're the only team in the NFL that has yet to appear in a conference championship game.

Houston hopes to change that in the next few weeks, and you have a chance to be a part of it as an honorary Texans fan. There are plenty of attractive reasons to break out the navy and red in your wardrobe, and orange actually has a lot to do with it. Two of the Texans biggest stars are familiar faces in the Carolinas, and that's because Houston is led by Clemson standouts Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins.

This could be a make or break factor in pledging your allegiance. Either you're a fan of the duo from their college days, which makes it an easy choice, or Watson and Hopkins wronged your local college team of choice and you've been holding a grudge ever since.

If you need more convincing, Vegas has the Texans listed as the longest of the long shots, so if you're going to pull for an underdog, why not choose the biggest of them all?

Plus, Carolina beat the Texans back in Week 4, so by the transitive property, that means the Panthers would be better than the Super Bowl champions, right? If that's what you need to have some peace of mind, then Houston it is.

Titans

(6) Tennessee Titans

The Titans may actually end up being the best pick of them all for Panthers fans. Here's why:

Of all the various reasons we've given you to root for the other seven teams, pretty much all of them apply to Tennessee.

Let's take a look. The Titans were the last team to make the cut in the AFC, so that gives you the underdog factor and more specifically, the same appeal the Vikings have in the NFC as the No. 6 seed. Plus, the franchise has only been to one Super Bowl in its history, and it was a loss back in 1999, so they have that going for them, too.

On top of all that, the Titans accomplished something Panthers fans – and really just fans around the league – can appreciate, and that's taking down the Patriots. So just like the Vikings who took down the Panthers NFC South rival in New Orleans, the Titans got the job done in New England. That's enough to put a team in every Panthers fan's good graces.

And don't forget that yes, the Panthers beat the Titans this year.

Oh, and if you're looking for that Carolina connection to firmly solidify your commitment to the Titans, they've got that, too. Tennessee's starting kicker is Greg Joseph, who spent four whole weeks on the Panthers practice squad toward the end of this season.

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