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Ron Rivera: Still hope for the Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is generally considered as one of the most honest and realistic coaches in the National Football League. It’s a reputation that has been well earned.

So what in the world was going on the other day when he said he Panthers weren’t in a bad spot?

Here are the straight facts: A season after reaching the Super Bowl, the Panthers are 1-5 and they have been a bad football team.

So how can Rivera say the Panthers aren’t in a bad spot? Let’s hear it straight from the coach’s mouth

“The easiest thing to do is quit, but shot we’ve got 10 games to play,’’ Rivera said “What we’ve got to do is take care of our business and do the things we’re capable of. That starts now.’’

It’s easy to get and respect Rivera’s point. After all, the man is a two-time NFL Coach of the Year. But that doesn’t mean you have to agree with his assessment.

To have a realistic shot at the playoffs, the Panthers need to go 10-0 or 9-1 in their remaining games. They also still could have two more losses and make the playoffs.

It’s no unprecedented to start 1-5, finish with 10 straight wins and make the playoffs. That’s exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs did last year. But it’s very rare. Prior to the Chiefs, the last time a team started 1-5, won the rest of its games and made the playoffs came in 1990. That’s five years before the Panthers joined the league as an expansion team.

There also are these facts: The Panthers are 30-11 in the months of November and December and 19-4 in December since Rivera was hired in 2011.

But the prior Carolina teams had reasons for hope. This one doesn’t and that’s my main gripe with Rivera saying the Panthers are in a bad spot.

I think he’s selling his team short. The Panthers are in a horrible spot and there aren’t a lot of reasons to look at what they have done and think they have a chance to win the rest of their games. Their remaining opponents are a combined 31-24. But that doesn’t come close to describing the plight of the Panthers.

Last season’s team was so good because it was so balanced. The Panthers were excellent on offense and defense. The only key offseason loss was the departure of cornerback Josh Norman. The Panthers have had some injury problems. But is that enough to explain why the Panthers are allowing 29.3 points a game, 10 more than a year ago?

Well, the cornerback situation undoubtedly has played a role in the defensive decline. But there are plenty of other factors involved. The biggest one is the regression of the front seven.

It was supposed to be one of the best in the league, led by players like defensive tackles Kawaan Short and linebacker Luke Kuechly. Short simply isn’t producing at the same level as he did last year. Kuechly has been more than adequate, but even he isn’t making the plays he did last year.

Then, there is the offensive side of the ball, which may be a bigger disappointment than the defense. Quarterback Cam Newton was the league’s Most Valuable Player last year, but he has slumped and isn’t going to win any awards this season. That’s shocking because Newton has his best receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, back after he missed all of last year with a knee injury.

But let’s flash back to what Rivera had to say. I understand why he said it. No coach is ever going to say, “We’ve quit and we’re going to lose the rest of our games.’’

The truth is the Panthers are in deep trouble. There aren’t any miracles coming to Charlotte this winter.

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