After clinching a first-round bye – and with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs seemingly a foregone conclusion – the Carolin Panthers have a choice to make.
Do they rest their starters and enter the postseason at full strength? Or do they throw caution to the wind and go for 16-0?
“I think they’re going to go for it,” Sports Illustrated senior NFL writer Greg Bedard said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think they’re on a roll right now. I think it’s a team playing with a lot of confidence. I think they’ll be smart about it as far as pulling Newton at a certain point in time, but I think they’re going to play it pretty close to the same. How many chances do you get to go 16-0? Football players play. I think Ron Rivera is a guy who’s going to look at it and say, ‘You know what? I want my team staying sharp going into the playoffs.’ Unless they suffer a loss, I think they’re going to play it out.”
The Panthers close the regular season with road games against the Giants (6-7) and Falcons (6-7) and a home game against the Buccaneers (6-7). Bedard called this Sunday’s game in East Rutherford a “measuring stick” for the Panthers, but isn’t it actually a measuring stick for the Giants?
“Well, I think it’s (a measuring stick for the Panthers) just because it’s their last real losable game,” Bedard said. “The Giants have a good offense. They have a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. The Panthers have not faced exactly murderers row of quarterbacks this year outside of (Aaron) Rodgers in Week 9 – and he had some success against them. I think that this is a good postseason tune-up for them. But it’s also a game (in) New York. We saw the way the Giants played against the Patriots in that stadium.”
The Giants pushed the Patriots to the brink in November, ultimately losing 27-26 on a last-second 54-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
“This is a team that’s not going to go quietly and they’re going to compete,” Bedard said. “So as opposed to, say, the Cowboys, the Saints and the Falcons, this is a good test (for the Panthers). This is not going to be an easy victory for them. They’re going to have to go in and win that game or else they’re going to get dealt their first loss.”
Kickoff at MetLife Stadium is at 1 p.m. ET.