Judgements: Beware Carolina

The best team in the NFC is not Green Bay. It's Carolina, and it's not even close. Not only can't the Panthers lose ... at least not in the regular season. But the Panthers do something that a lot of others in the playoff picture either can't or don't -- play defense.


(Mike Zimmer photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)

(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

Yes, it’s time to wake up to Carolina. OK, OK, so it’s past time. Not only have the Panthers won all eight starts this season; they’ve won their last 12 regular-season games. But coach Ron Rivera is right when he says “we have to learn how to finish better.” The Panthers blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead last week and nearly blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead Sunday. Except they didn’t … and that’s the good news. These guys know how to win, and they’re the team to beat in the NFC. They can run. They can throw. And they play defense. Plus, they have a two-and-a-half game lead (they hold the tiebreaker edge) over Green Bay, and that’s huge if you don’t want to go to Lambeau in January.

2. Another reason to like Carolina: Not only can’t it lose a regular-season game, but the Panthers became the first team to hang back-to-back defeats on Aaron Rodgers since 2010. Honest. Prior to Sunday, he was unbeaten in his last 15 starts immediately following defeats.

3. It’s time to believe in Minnesota, too. Reason: Unlike Green Bay, the Vikings play defense.

4. And Green Bay? There’s only so much Aaron Rodgers can do. He can’t block, and he can’t tackle … and, unfortunately for him, neither can his teammates.

5. Too bad the Green Bay defense doesn’t battle as well on the field as it does off it. Three weeks ago, Philip Rivers shredded the Packers for 503 yards passing. A week ago, Denver beat them up for 500 total yards – including 160 rushing … and that's by a team that can’t run. Now this.

6. And that, folks, is what happens when Denver’s defense doesn’t show up. Peyton Manning isn’t going to get better with time. He’s going to get older. And the Broncos still don’t have a reliable rushing attack. So the Broncos lean on the league’s best defense, and why not? But when it doesn’t respond? Uh-oh.

7. Attaboy, Chuck Pagano. That’s more like it. I don’t know who said what at that players-only meeting, and I don’t know what Rob Chudzinski did with that offense. But it worked. For the first time this season, the Colts are … cue Denny Green … WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!!!

8. Consider that a critical win for Pittsburgh. It keeps them in the playoff picture. Still, it’s hard not to believe the Steelers are swimming against the tide. First they lose Ben Roethlisberger. Then they lose Le’Veon Bell. Then they lose Big Ben again. All this and a leaky defense, too. All I know after Sunday is this: I still like Oakland’s chances of making the playoffs more than I do Pittsburgh’s.

9. That might well have been sudden death for Dallas, and here's why: The Cowboys play in the NFC East where you can win with a .500 record, right? Right. So they'e 2-6, which means they have little wiggle room. They also have four of their next five games on the road. I know, I know, Tony Romo returns in two weeks. But the Cowboys have Carolina, the Jets and road trips to Green Bay and Buffalo left, which means Big D stands for Desperate.

10. Arizona didn’t play this weekend, but that didn't stop the Cards from winning. They’re now two games ahead of second-place St. Louis and Seattle which makes next week's Cards-Seattle game a must-win for the Seahawks.

11. Say this about Mike Zimmer: The guy knows how to coach, and he knows how to air out an opponent when he needs it. Gregg Williams, your serve.

12. Adrian Peterson 1, Todd Gurley 0.

13. Say goodnight to Atlanta. The Falcons have hit the wall, losing three of their last four (all to opponents with losing records), winning only when they beat Zach Mettenberger. OK, only when Zach Mettenberger beat himself.

14. As I said, one reason NOT to like New Orleans: Defense. The Saints don’t believe in it.

15. All mid-season MVP polls start with Tom Brady. The only question is: Who’s second?

16. Three reasons why that was a huge win for the Eagles: 1) It keeps them a game behind the Giants (who play New England next); 2) four of their next six starts are at home (where they're 2-1) and 3) they catch a three-week break from the schedule, with Miami, Tampa Bay and Detroit next up -- opponents with a combined 7-17 record.

17. Yeah, I think Brandon Browner has a future … in flag football.

18. As part of the NFL’s salute to Veterans Day, let’s hear it for veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri. The guy’s 42, yet he’s still drilling 55-yard field goals for Indianapolis. You gotta be kidding. I'll have whatever he's drinking.

19. I’d congratulate Mike Mularkey on that come-from-behind win, except I didn’t realize Kevin Costner was coaching the Titans.

20. I feel a whole lot better now knowing that Greg Hardy expressed “regret” for what happened in the past.

21. This is how bad it’s gotten in Atlanta: The Falcons were outrushed Sunday by quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Honest. Gabbert had 32 yards; the Falcons had 17. And, remember, this is the team that includes the NFL’s leading rusher, Devonta Freeman. At least he WAS the leading rusher … until Sunday.

22. I see where 49ers’ players say they “still believe” in Colin Kaepernick. Great. Just one problem: Nobody else does.

23. OK, everyone, this is where we get off the Dan Campbell bandwagon.

24. When you wonder where it all went wrong, Dolphins’ fans, start here: Your team this season lost to Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor … twice.

25. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton didn't make the trip to New England because, he said, he suffers from "cluster headaches." After watching the Redskins, I can understand why.



(Andrew Luck photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)

Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck. For someone who’s supposed to have fractured ribs, he played remarkably – leading the Colts to an upset of Denver and outplaying Peyton Manning. Maybe, just maybe, Luck is OK now. If so, the Colts might be, too.

Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins. He was targeted eight times and caught all eight … vs. Brent Grimes. Maybe he was right. Just throw him the damn ball.

Pittsburgh RB DeAngelo Williams. The guy’s 32, but you’d never know it watching him run. In three starts with Pittsburgh where he had 20 or more carries, he’s run for 127, 77 and 170 yards with five TDs. Better yet, he had a whopping 225 yards in offense Sunday.

Dallas WR Cole Beasley. You expect Dez Bryant to beat you, but Beasley? He caught a career-high nine passes for a career-best 112 yards and two TDs and did what he could to keep the Cowboys close. Unfortunately for Dallas, close didn't cut it. That's six straight losses for the defending division champions.

Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota. Fact: Only two quarterbacks this season have multiple games of four touchdowns and no interceptions – Tom Brady and the guy you’re looking at.

St. Louis PK Greg Zuerlein. Don’t blame him for the Rams’ loss. He had four field goals, including a 53-and-61-yarder.


St. Louis CB Lamarcus Joyner. Plain and simple, his hit on Teddy Bridgewater was dirty. Bridgewater was sliding to protect himself when Joyner hit him high – knocking him out. “If we were out on the street,” Vikings’ coach Mike Zimmer said later, “we probably would’ve had a fight.” That was after Zimmer opened his post-game news conference by saying, “I know we played clean on our side of the ball” and lit up opposing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Translation: Zimmer didn’t like the hit, either. And you better believe the league office won’t, too. Get ready to write a check, Lamarcus.

Philadelphia CB Byron Maxwell. He committed two pass-interference penalties within four plays of each other to keep Dallas' game-tying drive alive in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Lucky for him the Cowboys never got the ball back.

Green Bay S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He was as bad on the sideline as he was one field, getting into it with teammate Julius Peppers before defensive tackle B.J. Raji had to push him away. Later he apologized on Twitter, “I will never disrespect a HOF player and a guy I’ve been watching since I was a little kid,” but the damage was done.

Washington WR Pierre Garcon. If football doesn’t work out, he has a heckuva future in volleyball. They love batted balls there.

Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans. See Pierre Garcon.

Denver CB Aqib Talib. Stupid is as stupid does, and his personal foul on Indianapolis’ last series was stupid, stupid, stupid. It not only gift-wrapped a new set of downs for the Colts; it clinched a victory. Oh, yeah, it also cost Peyton Manning a chance to set career records for passing yards and victories. Joe Horrigan, see you in Denver next weekend.


Antonio Brown photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

(Antonio Brown photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown. His 284 yards receiving were a franchise record and the most in the NFL since Calvin Johnson had 329 yards two years ago. But that’s not what mattered most. This is: He had 17 catches, with his last a 57-yarder that set up the game-winning field goal.


Bill Belichick photo courtesy New England Patriots
Bill Belichick photo courtesy New England Patriots

(Bill Belichick photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

“It’s always good to run the ball. It’s always good to pass the ball. It’s always good to score points.” – New England coach Bill Belichick.


0-6 -- Dallas without Tony Romo

1-11 – Washington on the road under Jay Gruden

3-1 – Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning

3 – Roughing-the-quarterback penalties by Tennessee

10 – Giants’ points off takeaways

13 – Peyton Manning interceptions this season

180 – Antonio Brown receiving yards … in the first half

266 – Buffalo yards rushing vs. Miami

597 – Pittsburgh yards vs. Oakland, the most allowed by the Raiders in a regulation game