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NFL storylines: playoff mediocrity and the Carolina Panthers

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NFL storylines: playoff mediocrity and the Carolina Panthers

With three games remaining in the NFL season, fans begin looking toward the post season. At this stage, most teams should already be looking toward next year.

In the AFC, only six of 16 teams have .500 records or better. It is even worse in the NFC, where only five teams have won more than they have lost.

It is even worse than that. Of the 16 NFC teams, 14 of them still have a chance for the playoffs.

The famous rant of former Indianapolis Colts’ coach Jim Mora comes to mind:

“Playoffs? Are you kiddin’ me?”

It is true. Only the 4-9 Detroit Lions and the 4-9 San Francisco 49ers can officially begin preparations for next spring’s draft.

That means the 4-9 Dallas Cowboys are still in it because the NFC Eastern Division is a squadron of mediocrity. The Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are tied for the division lead at 6-7. The division winner will actually play their first post season game at home.

The Bucs are still mathematically alive at 6-7, but when Seattle and Minnesota each win one of their three remaining games, Tampa Bay can begin taking longer looks at those they want to be around next year.

Florida’s other two teams are in different positions. The Jacksonville Jaguars are still alive for a playoff spot at 5-8 simply because they play in the AFC South.

The Colts and Houston Texans lead the division with 6-7 records. Like the NFC East, the division winner gets to play their first game at home.

The Miami Dolphins are one of five teams eliminated from the AFC Playoffs, freeing their fans to focus on another team heavy on their minds: the 13-0 Carolina Panthers.

Each year, current and former Dolphins, along with those fans who remember, are relieved when the last of the 32 teams loses their first game. When seasons go poorly, as they have this year, there is always the soothing memory of the 1972 team that went 17-0 and remains the NFL’s only perfect team.

Over the next three weeks, Dolphins’ fans will be rooting for the Giants, Falcons and Bucs in that order. Should Carolina defeat all three and run the table, the playoffs will be that much more interesting to watch.

The only coach to lead a perfect team, Don Shula, has mixed emotions. He is loyal to the legacy of his former players, but his son, Mike, is the Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Shula explained himself in an interview with the Associated Press.

The Panthers are concerned about injuries to two key players. Tight end Greg Olsen is nursing a knee injury, while running back Jonathan Stewart has a sprained foot.

Without them, the Giants could present some problems. Despite their losing record, the Giants are still playing for a playoff spot. Miami fans fondly remember New York for ruining the perfect season of the New England Patriots with their 17-14 upset in Super Bowl XLII.

To win the NFC and the Super Bowl to get to 19-0, Carolina will need to beat three good teams. Their first playoff game would be against either Minnesota or Seattle, unless the NFC East champ pulls a huge upset.

Next in line would likely either be the Arizona Cardinals or Green Bay Packers. Carolina is poised to clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, giving them a huge leg up over opponents. Then there is Super Bowl 50.

During his tenure as NFL Commissioner, the late Pete Rozelle took pride in the “parity” enjoyed by the NFL. The goal was having fewer 15-1 and 1-15 teams.

While that has played out over the years, parity is a negative connotation this year. Twenty-one of 32 teams with losing records was not the plan. While a losing team should never make the playoffs, this year we might have two.

Coach Mora would agree and then probably root for the Panthers.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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