Panthers Face Must-Win Game

Heading into the 2006 season, the Carolina Panthers were among the favorites to head to the Super Bowl as the NFC representative. But now the Panthers are facing a deep hole for themselves if they fall to 0-2 Sunday.

The Carolina Panthers have spent much of the preseason being ballyhooed as the favorite, along with the Seahawks, to be the NFC representative in Super Bowl XLI. But, just one week into the season, the Panthers find themselves in serious jeopardy.

After dropping their home opener to the Falcons and losing starting offensive left tackle Travelle Wharton for the season and middle linebacker Dan Morgan for at least a couple of weeks, the Panthers come into the Metrodome with the distinct possiblity of falling to 0-2.

Unfortunately for Panthers fans, it doesn't get any easier after that. In Week 3, the Panthers have to travel to division rival Tampa Bay and, after a pair of home games, they go on the road to face the Ravens and Bengals in consecutive weeks.

The Panthers face a brutal schedule that doesn't leave much room for error. A team that at one time was viewed as a favorite from the NFC, Carolina now sits on the brinks of being just "one of the guys" slogging it out for a playoff spot.

If the Vikings put the boots to the Panthers on Sunday, look for the panic alarm to go off.

FRIDAY NOTES
* If the Panthers' injury problems weren't already bad enough, All-Pro wide receiver Steve Smith and center Justin Hartwig both missed practice Thursday and remain question marks for Sunday's game.
* Koren Robinson is expected to play Sunday for the Packers -- his first game since his arrest in August for drunk driving and fleeing police.
* Former Viking Brian Williams pleaded guilty to DWI in Florida Thursday and was fined, sentenced to six months probation and ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.

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