The Race to the Top

The Carolina Panthers five game win streak has placed them tied for first place in the South Division. Only the Atlanta Falcons have as good a record right now and the next few weeks may determine who will be representing this division around playoff time. The Panthers play three key opponents before the showdown with the Falcons on December 4th.

Before thinking about the Falcons, the Panthers must continue to concentrate one game at a time in order to place themselves in the driver's seat for the rest of the season.

The Panthers play AFC opponent, the New York Jets next week at home in Bank of America Stadium. The Jets (2-6), have lost three straight games in a row and are looking right now to fill in the many holes they have in their team. The Jet's biggest concerns are with injuries. Several key players on both sides of the ball are either injured or out for the season. Chad Pennington, the Jets normal starting quarterback, went out early in the season and the team had to turn to aging veteran and former New York Jets Vinny Testaverde to take the helm until third year backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger was healthy enough to start behind center. Coach Herm Edwards announced on Monday that Bollinger will be the starting quarterback against the Carolina Panthers next Sunday. Although many see this game as an easy victory for the Panthers, anyone can tell you that any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday and with the multiple heartbreaking losses the Jets have suffered over the past few weeks, they are due. Coach Fox of the Panthers knows this situation all too well. "We're the same team that was 1-2 after three games and maybe a big disappointment," Fox said. "That still lurks out there in the future."

After the Jets, the Panthers next opponent is away against the Chicago Bears. Many Panther fans will be watching this game with much interest to see former Carolina Panther wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad line up against his former teammates. Muhammad was signed as a free agent last season by the Bears during the off season. The Panthers will face a Bears defense that is currently ranked third in the NFL. How the Panthers respond to the pressure of such a dominating defense will say a lot about the heart of the team and will show that the dominant victory of the Buccaneers was not a fluke.

The Panthers go to Buffalo to face the Bills for their last game in November. This game will be an interesting one to watch. The Bills have struggled with consistency on offense and have switched their starting quarterbacks from J.P. Losman to Kelly Holcomb. The Bills will also be without starting linebacker Takeo Spikes, who went out earlier this season with a leg injury. The key for the Panthers for this game will be to shut down the rushing attack of Bills running back Willis McGahee and force the Bills to beat them with the pass.

The potential for a huge divisional match up against the rival Atlanta Falcons looms in the future for the Panthers. However, before looking too far out, Coach Fox will make sure his players take it one game as a time. "It's allowed," Fox said. "I don't walk around with a big stick and hit people over the head or anything. It still is what it is. We're 6-2. We're one game away from being the worst team in football. If you just be the same guy and go to work each day with your lunch pail and get your work done, those things take care of themselves. You don't look too far ahead and you don't look too far behind."

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