Playoff teams win games that they should. I believe that we should win the next three. But will we? Can we put a string of wins together against the so-so Rams, bottom-dwelling Bucs, and the damage-winged Falcons? – Joshua via Twitter
"Playoff teams win games that they should." I'll put it another way: "Teams become playoff teams by winning games that they should." It's difficult to qualify for the NFL playoffs. There's little margin for error, so teams must take advantage of the way their schedule sets up if they hope to still be playing come January.
This is a crucial part of the schedule for the Panthers, one ripe with opportunity but certainly nothing that can be taken for granted. It starts Sunday with St. Louis, an up-and-down team that comes to Charlotte riding high. The Rams (3-3) have followed a pair of lopsided losses to Dallas and San Francisco with convincing victories over Jacksonville and Houston. Their other victory? A season-opening win over the same Arizona team that clipped Carolina in Week 5.
Then it's on to division play with games against a pair of NFC South foes currently sporting a combined 1-10 record. But division games are a different animal, with win-loss records often meaning very little.
Of course the Panthers can win all three, but will they? That's why they play the games.
When was the last time we were a .500 team? Will it happen this weekend? – Justin via Twitter
It actually wasn't that long ago. Last year's home victory over the New Orleans Saints evened the Panthers' record at 1-1. The last time the Panthers were .500 at least this deep into the season was 2009 when they won their final three games to finish 8-8 – the only time they reached .500 that season. That team had previously played five games with a chance to reach .500 but lost all of them, including a 2-3 Panthers team that hosted a 2-4 Buffalo team but lost 20-9. It's a similar scenario this week but one instance where the Panthers don't want history to repeat itself.
Can you explain why there is such a thing as a requirement for "inactive" players each week? Why can't the full 53-man roster be available to teams? – Mac in Rock Hill, S.C.
The NFL is all about creating competitive balance, and this is a rule that helps accomplish that goal. Forcing teams to designate seven inactive players curbs the advantage that a particularly healthy team could have over a particularly injured one, increasing the chances that each team will field 46 relatively healthy players. In addition, it provides a way for teams to keep players with short-term injuries on their 53-man roster without harming their game-day roster. Since teams know that seven players must be inactive each week, it's possible to keep a player likely to be out for just a few weeks on the roster rather than placing him on injured reserve. In the same way, it's possible to keep a couple of developmental players on the roster rather than on the practice squad, where opposing teams can claim them for their own.
First off, Stewart isn't on the 53-man roster. He's on the physically unable to perform list and can stay there for up to three weeks after he first practices. If the Panthers add Stewart to the 53-man roster, someone would have to be removed from it. At this point, the obvious choice would be left guard Amini Silatolu, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 but hasn't yet been placed on injured reserve. When and if both Stewart and Barner – who has played in just one game as he battles a foot injury – are active for game day, a lot of factors will go into determining who the seven inactive players are.
Can I ask you ANYTHING, or just specific types of questions? – Brenda in Greensboro, N.C.
Yes Brenda, you can ask me anything. That doesn't mean I'll answer anything.