This will be an important game for both the Panthers and the Titans. At 4-3 Carolina knows that their chances of having a record good enough to earn them a wild card for the playoffs is mighty slim if they haven’t even taken first place in their division. That means they will need to win the NFC South to have any meaningful shot at post season play. It’s not an unrealistic goal; they aren’t in as poor a division as, say the NFC West where the lackluster Seattle Sleepwalks wallow in mediocrity, but Carolina’s division rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans are still both hovering around .500 as are the Panthers so the opportunity to stay in the race is still there. It probably can’t be done with a loss to the Titans however â€“ Drew Brees is putting up some big passing numbers for the Saints and Jeff Garcia is a capable veteran for the Buccaneers who will probably dispatch Arizona this weekend. For their part the Titans can’t afford to drop a single game. It might be an uphill battle to beat the streaking Colts for a divisional title but Tennessee is in good position if they keep up the current pace to guarantee themselves a wild card spot at the very least â€“ in the entire AFC only the Jaguars have as good a record as the Titans among teams that are not division leaders.
For Carolina sorting out their quarterback woes is the biggest hurdle to be overcome. “Really the first part of this season has been a little strange for the Panthers and for me,” says Panthers backup QB David Carr. “It’s just been a wild deal as far as the quarterback situation. We just need to settle in and get into a routine of having the same thing week to week to week. That’s going to make our team a lot better.”
Frankly it’s difficult to see how that’s possible. Carr became the starting quarterback in Week 3 when 1st string QB Jake DelHomme injured his elbow seriously enough to require ligament surgery Two games later Carr was sacked and pounded into the gridiron by Saints defensive end Will Smith. “I felt like I got sat on and then twisted.â€ Carr said. â€œEvery bone in my back popped all the way up to my neck. I didn’t know honestly if I’d ever play again.” In fact Carr played again in that very game, but he was sufficiently shaken to prompt the Panthers to get Vinnie Testaverde off the sofa and back into the locker room to stand in for Carr. Testaverde played reasonably well in Carolina’s next game at Arizona, getting some help from the Cardinals who imploded by coughing up the football 5 times but meshing well with wide receiver Steve Smith whom the Panthers used in some creative ways. Now Testaverde is out after aggravating the tendonitis in his right foot and Carr is poised to relieve Vinnie against Tennessee. When will this merry-go-round finally stop? Your guess is as good as anyone’s.
Tennessee has some injury issues at quarterback as well though the burden has not been as severe as the one the Panthers are laboring to overcome. Titans QB Vince Young has been coming back from a quadriceps injury and managed to throw for only 42 yards against a highly ranked (3rd best in the NFL) Raiders pass defense last week. Luckily for Tennessee, Oakland’s defense against the run, 3rd worst in the NFL was soft enough for the Titans to exploit for 192 yards. Tennessee RB Lendale White led the running attack by plowing for a career high 133 yards, and rookie RB Chris Henry also picked up 48 yards and rushed for the Titans only touchdown of the day. Look for White’s number to be called again…[and again and again] when Carolina comes to town.
Tennessee has the stiffest defense in the NFL against the run so expect them to limit Panthers running back DeShawn Foster to a minimal role. At 26th ranked in the league the Titans pass defense is nothing to write home about, but when you combine Carolina’s quarterback headaches with Tennessee’s run defense you get an uphill battle for the Panthers all the way. Of note elsewhere is the season ending injury to the Titan’s long snapper Ken Amato. Tennessee just acquired linebacker Jeremy Cain to take over that function and if field goals are needed by the Titans to make the difference, they will be executing the snap with different personnel; that always has the potential to result in mistakes due to the learning curve. Still, look for Tennessee to take this one by a touchdown or less.