Carolina Panthers look to make playoffs next year.

The 2020 Carolina Panthers are reminding football fans that it’s possible for a team to be exciting and disappointing at the same time.

After starting the season 0-2, and with superstar running back Christian McCaffrey injured in their week two loss, it looked like it was going to be another tough season to be a Panthers fan. Then in week three, things began  to turn around. Backup running back Mike Davis played great in McCaffrey’s place, and the receiver trio DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson made quarterback Teddy Bridgewater look like a star. The Panthers won three in a row and were in a close race in the NFC South for a playoff spot with the Saints and Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. 

Now at 4-7, the up-and-down team’s playoff chances are slim. The New York Times places their odds at 2 percent . 

Panthers fan and Riverside alum Noah Macmillan remains hopeful, but also realistic.

“The Panthers making the playoffs will depend on other teams,” he said. “There are lots of good teams in the NFC that are better than the Panthers.” 

McCaffrey had a dominating return in a close loss to the Chiefs in week 9. Then a week later they left fans worried after a 23-46 loss to the Buccaneers in a game the Panthers needed to win if they wanted a playoff spot. 

The Panthers have only lost two games this year by more than one possession. With most of their games being very close, the team looked to kicker Joey Slye to pull them through. Slye was unsuccessful in making record length field goals, leaving the Panthers and their fans to several exciting but disappointing losses. 

The team’s shutout win on Sunday against the Lions without McCaffrey and Bridgewater is a good sign for the rest of the season. The schedule looks promising, too. They have games against the struggling Vikings, and Broncos in weeks 12 and 14, as well as the Washington Football Team (formerly the Redskins) team in week 16. All could be wins. 

They play the Packers and the Saints in weeks 15 and 17. If the Panthers win all of the easier games as well as one of these more difficult games, and the other teams in their division lose the right games at the right time, they can still make the playoffs. 

It’s enough to keep fans like sophomore Collin Phillips interested, but not yet optimistic. 

”I don’t think their defense is good enough,” he said. ”Their division is too tough with the Bucs and the Saints to make the playoffs.” 

If, at the end of the season the Panthers are 9-7, their playoff chances go up to 14 percent.

No matter how this season ends, the team’s future looks bright. The Panthers have one of the best receiver trios in the league. When healthy, McCaffrey is one of the best running backs in the league. First year head coach Matt Rhule has exceeded expectations. 

“The whole point is that we’re not asking what’s next,” Rhule said one month ago. “We’re attacking what’s next. We don’t care what’s next. We’re just looking for the next challenge.”

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