The 2-time consecutive defending NFC South Division Champion New Orleans Saints will have an extra day to prepare for their opponent on ESPN Monday Nght Football next week; and it will be against the same opponent that they'll face once again in two weeks after that; their divisional rivals, the Carolina Panthers.
However, while New Orleans will still have to be well-prepared against a team that was in the Playoffs last year and has a handful of talented players on their roster, this particular season hasn't exactly gone the way that the Panthers had hoped — making for some very tough times for fans throughout the Carolinas.
The Panthers have lost 5 consecutive games in a row since getting off to a (6-2) start to begin the season, and almost seem to be on the verge of spinning completely out of control.
In essence, the Panthers organization in recent weeks appears to have "lost their bite".
Yesterday the Panthers got beat 26-20 by the Cleveland Browns; and the loss was the perfect example of the types of things that have gone wrong for them this season, which include a shockingly bad pass defense and erratic play on offense.
The Panthers have tried everything to turn things around; from head coach Ron Rivera taking over the defensive play-calling; to firing two assistant coaches on the defensive coaching staff; but obviously nothing (so far) has seemed to work.
That's caused some uneasiness among the Panthers players, who are now starting to grow tired of losing and have been hard-pressed to give the media any real answers to the questions that are being asked as to why they haven;t been able to play as well as they did earlier in the season.
“I don’t have the answers," 38-year-old Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers said to the media in the locker room after the game. “I really don’t."
What's even worse for Carolina is that now they'll have to face an (11-2) Saints team next Monday Night that needs to keep winning games and is currently engaged in a hotly-contested battle with the Los Angeles Rams (11-2) for the #1 Playoff seed in the NFC.
That doesn't bode well for a team that hasn't won a game since the first weekend in November, with Christmas now just 2 more weeks away.
“I said it time and time again, it’s frustrating," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said. “To be in the position we are in, understanding and knowing the talent we have, understanding the time and effort and energy the coaches put in coming up with the game plan, for us to be in this position, it sucks."
As noted by ESPN Panthers beat writer David Newton: Rivera admitted earlier in the week that he hoped his taking over the defensive play-calling would turn out similar to the results of the 2014 season; when he made changes on both the player roster and with the coaching staff, that sparked Carolina to a 4-0 finish which secured a playoff spot.
Newton makes the observation that Rivera (who's on the proverbial NFL head coaching "hot seat") could have taken over the play-calling duties to show everyone that if he is going to be fired, then he'll get fired while doing something that not many other people in the entire NFL do better than he does: coaching defense.
Newton reports additionally that Rivera's future is unknown at the moment; as is that of Panthers general manager Marty Hurney.
Both men were given contract extensions from former owner Jerry Richardson before he sold the team to current new owner David Tepper during the off-season.
But the biggest issue for Carolina — besides their godawful pass defense that got burned once again yesterday by Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield this time around — is the struggles of....who else? Panthers 8th year veteran QB Cam Newton.
Yesterday late in the 4th quarter with a 1st Down situation at the Cleveland 9-yard line and a chance to take the lead, the Panthers came away with zero points after Newton missed his receiver on two separate throws into the end zone.
Newton was later intercepted on the Panthers' last drive in the game's closing final minute, which was his 8th interception during the Panthers' 5-game losing streak. Previously, he had only 4 interceptions in the team's first eight games.
Perhaps more concerning: there have been unconfirmed rumors and whispers throughout Social Media that Newton might have an issue with his throwing shoulder (right arm); speculation about his condition which was fueled when the Panthers had him rest (and not throw the ball any) during their practices last Wednesday or Thursday.
His erratic performance yesterday has Panthers fans wondering what they can expect to see happen next; although Newton appeared to make sure that none of the blame for their issues this season would be associated solely with him.
“We’re in the position where we’re done with the cliché sayings," Newton said. “It just comes down to us doing our job. ... We all put ourselves in this situation. There’s no one person to blame."
While Newton might be correct in the fact that perhaps none of their players are specifically to blame, he's still their biggest star and the designated "face of the franchise"; and with that recognition comes a great responsibility.
In the past, Newton has been heavily criticized for a lack of maturity, although this season (with any possible undetermined injury issues put to the side): Newton seemingly has showed a lack of leadership and accountability.
That more than Newton's sore shoulder or the Panthers'poor pass defense, could be their biggest reason for this season's sudden decline in their performance in such a short period of time.
And now with the Saints up next on their schedule, times could get even tougher in Carolina — for a Panthers team that's "lost their bite"....