vs. With the Carolina Panthers finding out just before kickoff that the rival New Orleans Saints had clinched the NFC South title, the Panthers needed a victory today, against the visiting Oakland Raiders, to stay in the lead for one of the two NFC Wild Card spots this season. With a huge rain storm pounding the city of Charlotte into soggy submission, the Panthers knew they had their work cut out for them. The Panthers 2nd ranked pass defense came up huge in this one, holding the high powered Raiders offense to under 100 total yards on the day and keeping them out of the endzone, delivering the 24-3 Carolina victory. 1st Quarter The Panthers get on the board first, late in the 1st Quarter, with a 44 yard Olino Mare field goal for a 3-0 lead. The score was set up by a Carolina interception of Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer. The interception was a huge play for Carolina, as it would be just after the Raiders defense picked off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. On the ensuing drive Palmer would be hit, as he attempted to run a playaction fake, and coughed up the ball for a fumble. Panthers defensive end Eric Norwood would pick up the loose ball and return it 7 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 Carolina lead. 2nd Quarter Following a Raider punt; Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams would add a 1 yard touchdown run midway through the 2nd quarter, to increase the Panthers lead to 17-0. The Panthers offense would strike once more just before the half, capitalizing on another Palmer interception, as Cam would connect with receiver Steve Smith for a 34 yard touchdown and a 24-0 halftime lead. 3rd Quarter The Raiders would threaten to score late in the 3rd quarter, but a goal line stand by the Carolina D would hold Oakland to a 30 yard Janikowski field goal to avoid the shutout. 4th Quarter Neither team was able to move the ball much in the final period, but Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble would record two interceptions in the quarter. Record Breaking Potential The pair of picks gives Gamble a league leading 14 on the season and also ties the NFL season record set by Dick "Night Train" Lane in his rookie season of 1952 with the Los Angeles Rams. Gamble is one a trio of players (also including Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the Eagles and Richard Sherman of the Seahawks) threatening the 60 year old record this season. NFC South Championship With the Panthers visiting the Saints next week in the Super Dome, and the Saints winning today in Dallas over the Cowboys, the best the Panthers could do would be to tie the Saints and 10-6 and even the season series at 1-1 (New Orleans defeated Carolina in the unfortunate week 2 sim debacle). With a better record against NFC opponents, New Orleans would own the tiebreaker. NFC Wild Card With the division decided, the Panthers are focused on the final Wild Card spot in the NFC. With the Arizona Cardinals clinching one of the 2 available Wild Card spots, that leaves one spot available in the NFC. The last available Wild Card is down to a race between the Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers. The Panthers need a win in their final regular season game, or a loss by the The 49ers (to the division rival Arizona Cardinals), to ensure a playoff spot. Should the Panthers lose and the Niners win, Carolina should still win the tiebreaker to secure the last spot. But that would only be if EA got the tiebreakers right, after the first couple of levels this season, as both teams would possess an identical 6-6 record against NFC opponents. The next tiebreaker should be common opponents (which we didn't have the minimum of 4) and then strength of victory, which the Panthers currently hold the edge in. Rather than rely on this, the Panthers would prefer to win their final game and remove all doubt. The New Orleans Saints will be riding a 7 game winning streak into their week 17 matchup, but are sure to be resting some starters in anticipation of their impending playoff game. ----------------------------------- GG Miki! As we discussed, that rain made things horrible on both sides of the ball. Good luck in the offseason!