In 2010 the Carolina Panthers won only twice and head coach John Fox was dismissed at the end of the season. Last year with rookie QB Cam Newton and first-time head coach Ron Rivera the Panthers won four of their final six games to finish 6-10. With optimism running high Carolina started this year 1-7. They've bounced back with two wins in their last four games and have a chance to put back-to-back victories together for the first time this season if they can triumph today in Kansas City.
The Panthers have consistently failed to finish games since Rivera took over. Of 19 loses in two years 11 have been decided by a touchdown or less. Carolina is 0-6 this year and 1-11 over two seasons in games that have come down to seven points or fewer. Interestingly, all three Panther wins this year have come by exactly eight points including Monday's win in Philadelphia.
Despite Eagle RB Bryce Brown running for 178 yards and two touchdowns the Panthers beat Philly 30-22. Newton had his best game of the season throwing for 306 yards, scampering for 52 yards, and accounting for four touchdowns. Carolina running backs continued to struggle averaging just over three yards a carry, but seven Panthers caught passes and four players racked up 50 receiving yards against the Eagles.
As for Kansas City, the Chiefs (1-10) have lost eight straight. It has been more than a year since the Chiefs won at home. Memories of Kyle Orton beating Aaron Rodgers to halt the Packers unbeaten season at 13-0 have faded. Orton ranked 12th in the AFC last year with a QB rating of 77.8. Chiefs starting signal caller Matt Cassell is 17th in the AFC this year with a rating of 66.7. KC backup Brady Quinn has posted a 52.0 rating. The Chiefs have not had a quarterback pass for 200 yards or more since October 28, a span of five games.
While the passing game has been a weakness, Kansas City has run the ball well. The Chiefs rank fourth in the NFL in rushing. After threading Denver for 107 yards last week, Jamaal Charles has sprinted for 928 yards on the year. He ranks eighth in the league in rushing, ahead of Baltimore's Ray Rice and the 49ers Frank Gore.
Lost in an otherwise forgettable year, Chief LB Derrick Johnson is second in the NFL with 81 solo tackles. He had a season low four stops last week against the Broncos when he was hampered by a groin injury. Johnson was one of four players in the league with more than 100 solo stops last year.
Rivera and Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel face uncertain futures. A strong finish with team's that overcome adversity would go a long way towards convincing ownership they deserve another season. As for the players, KC signal callers are likely auditioning for employment elsewhere next year while Newton is hoping to keep optimism alive in Charlotte.