The second half of the NFL season is underway. This is often when winning matters most, as teams begin to jockey for playoff seeding and fight for home-field advantage.
It’s also when teams fall for their high perch. The pretenders tend to show themselves in these hard-to-win games when other teams begin to grow more desperate or more diligent. That’s what we saw on Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers downright embarrassed the Carolina Panthers, 52-21.
Here a look at some of the NFL’s biggest pretenders, who will surely get exposed heading into the second half of the season.
Carolina Panthers (6-3)
Their defense got a look at a legitimate contender, and Carolina shriveled up. The Panthers got pantsed on national TV.
Their biggest wins this season have come over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles. But they’ve taken losses from the Atlanta Falcons, the Washington Redskins and the Steelers. Carolina seems to have gotten an early-season opportunity to pad their stats and their record. What may deliver the final blow for the Panthers is their schedule from Week 15 to Week 17 when they play the Saints twice and the Falcons once. That could help Atlanta jump over the Panthers for a wild card spot.
Quarterback Cam Newton’s pass-catchers are struggling to get open with the exception of running back Christian McCaffrey, but feeding him didn’t allow the team to keep pace with the Steelers, who scored quickly and easily on almost every possession. What’s worse, Newton’s offensive line couldn’t protect him, and allowed five sacks. The defense might be a strange mix of players who are too old and players who are too young. Linebacker Luke Kuechly can’t do everything, though he’ll probably try.