As the NFL season rolls on, the picture of who's a contender and who is not becomes ever clearer. A lot of the preseason predictions are proven wrong, with some of the fringe teams popping up among the contenders, and with some of the likely contenders sinking right into the basements of their respective divisions. The Baltimore Ravens were considered a powerhouse before the season's start and for the most part, they have confirmed expectations. They do remain firmly in control of the AFC despite the fact that a recent trouncing suffered at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons has given birth to some doubts regarding their ability to make it deep into the playoffs.
There are few doubts when it comes to the Carolina Panthers though. Ask any expert, he'll tell you things are pretty clear with these guys. Thanks to the gambles taken by coach John Fox meant to save his position as head coach at the organization, the Panthers are now a team in shambles. They have pretty much played to save their coaches' job from the very beginning, and obviously such lofty goal may not provide enough motivation for some of the teams. Fox had had the choice to play rookie quarterback Jimmy Clause, but that would have been a risky affair considering the developmental period of about one or two years, that the addition of the rookie to the lineup would've meant. Instead of going down the risky path, Fox opted for veteran Matt Moore, a choice which backfired badly and led to the team's current record of 1- 8. As far as the offense is concerned, the Ravens definitely hold an edge there. Joe Flacco has turned in a career performance against the Falcons, scoring three touchdowns, not throwing a single interception in two games and generally having his best game of the season against the Falcons despite the loss. That doesn't change the fact however the Ravens seem to be a team that lives and dies by the defense. No matter how well they function on the offensive end, whenever there are problems in the defense, they just can't be bailed out.
On the other hand, it doesn't really take a stellar offense to best whatever the Panthers can throw their way. The fact that coach John Fox thought Moore would be any sort of improvement over Clause, is a bit like a bad joke. Clause could have nine games under his belt by now, well on his way towards becoming a pro quarterback, instead the Panthers offensive lineup is as toothless and clawless as ever. As far as a defensive match-up is concerned, the Panthers take that one. Ranked 5th in the league, their defense is well capable of causing the Ravens all sorts of problems. The Ravens on the other hand, have been having quite a few problems on the defensive and lately, the state of affairs well reflected by the fact that their defense is only 14th in the league. The Achilles' heel of the Panthers defense is rush defense, and that's where Baltimore running back Ray Rice may give them fits. Everything considered, the Ravens should take this one easily. After all, when it comes to motivation one can hardly compare a team whose goal is to reassert itself as one of the top playoff contenders, with a team which probably only plays for next season, even as most of its players know they won't be around for next season. Facing off against a weaker team is the perfect opportunity for the Ravens pick up and dust off their pride, abused and battered by the Atlanta Falcons last time around.