As was mentioned in this space a couple days ago, it wouldn't have come as a huge surprise if the Golden State Warriors succumbed to the Milwaukee Bucks. Sure, the Warriors were 24-0 and the Bucks in last place in their division with a paltry 9-15 record. But Golden State was playing the last game on a grueling 7 game road trip and had been taken into double overtime just the night before in Boston. They were running on fumes. And so it came to pass. The Bucks thumped the Warriors and they are unbeaten no more.
It was just a matter of time. Somebody was going to knock them off. As good as they are, nobody in their right mind ever thought Golden State would go through the whole season without suffering at least a few losses. And it's probably just as well for them. The pressure of the winning streak is over.
Though several teams in the NFL started the season with winning streaks, only one remains. The Carolina Panthers. Now at 13-0, they've already wrapped up not only a playoff spot, but a first round bye and likely home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. They would have to stumble badly in their 3 remaining games while the 11-2 Arizona Cardinals ran the table to lose that advantage.
And the odds of that happening are long indeed. Consider the Panthers' remaining games:
@ NY Giants. True, from week to week, nobody knows for sure whether Eli's coming or going, and head coach Tom Caughlin can bonehead it up with the best/worst of them, but the Giants are most certainly an unpredictable bunch. Currently at 5-7 in the pretty much pitiful NFC East division, one would think the Panthers would cruise. But just when one writes off the Giants as midgets, they'll rise up and do the seemingly impossible. Remember when they knocked off the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back? Who saw THAT coming?
@ Atlanta Falcons. Well gee, the Panthers just obliterated the Falcons 38-0. A beat down. A rout. Even though this game will be played in Atlanta, it's hard to believe the Falcons will be 38+ points better playing the same team at home two weeks later.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They're 6-7, and mediocre on their best day. Isn't this the same team with the crab leg swiping rookie quarterback that can't seem to get out of its own way in recent years? And they're going to go into Charlotte to face the vastly superior Panthers when Carolina is returning home after two road games for the regular season finale in front of their own rabid fans? Well, good luck with that.
Bottom line is it's entirely possible, perhaps probable the Carolina Panthers will finish the regular season undefeated. But that's when things might get dicey for Cam Newton and company.
Somewhere along the line in the playoffs they're going to have to play the likes of the Green Bay Packers or Arizona Cardinals. Either of these teams is capable of going on the road and winning a big game.
But there's a team far more dangerous. The Seattle Seahawks. True, they started out slow this year and are currently 8-5, but few would doubt the SS storm troopers have rounded back into championship form in recent weeks. They look formidable on both sides of the ball. Though they'll likely be a "wild card" team, don't sleep on Seattle. Love them or hate them, the Seahawks are the real deal and will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
Yet for now the Carolina Panthers are the only undefeated team remaining. Here's hoping they win their next 3 games to polish off a perfect regular season.
The reasoning behind that thought is two-fold. First, Cam Newton is the undisputed leader of the Carolina Panthers. Besides his obvious talent, he's an all-around nice guy. Newton's fan friendly to a fault, so far a model citizen, well and soft spoken, and hasn't taken on the holier-than-thou personna that so many other sports stars have succumbed to. It's impossible NOT to like him, and therefore his team.
And secondly I, for one, want to see the surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins team -- the only team to run the entire table for a year -- including capping it off with a Super Bowl win -- squirm one more time. Yours truly is sick and tired of these guys getting together every year to toast themselves as the only "perfect" team in history. Forty two years later and they remain haughty.
It's long past time they had company. Can the Panthers actually pull it off? Maybe, maybe not, but they're the only ones that have a shot at doing so.
So go get em boys. First things first. Trash Eli, retrash the Falcons, and field dress the not-so-big Bucs. Enjoy the bye week and get ready for the big boys that will come next. I'm rooting for ya......