With the Carolina Panthers getting closer to clinching home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and on to the Super Bowl perhaps, the question of going for the 16-0 season or resting starters comes to mind.
Being perfect might be nice for the record books, but if it comes at the cost of an injured starter, it’s not worth the price. The Panthers still have to play the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons (who they just shut out) on the road before the season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at home. By then, if nothing changes, they should remain undefeated, and probably won’t be starting Cam Newton or anyone of significance in that game.
But resting healthy players isn’t the same as keeping somewhat injured players from getting even more banged up. Jonathan Stewart, who has rushed for 989 yards this season, sprained his foot against the Falcons. Greg Olsen, the team’s leading receiver and maybe the only reliable target Cam Newton has (he has done a remarkable job with a rag-tag receiving crew this season), tweaked his knee against the Falcons. However, unlike Stewart, he’s more likely to play, and maybe only to keep his streak of 139 games played intact.
It just might be a matter of who is more important. The Panthers assume they can do OK without Stewart for one week, but losing Olsen might be too much of a hit on the team in the coming game, and his injury probably isn’t that serious at this point. Defensively the Panthers aren’t too banged up and seem to be carrying fine, which might be the most important part of this team right now, which enables Newton to look MVP’ish some of the time.
The Panthers have already made franchise history with a 13-0 start and 17 consecutive regular season wins. But in order to feel comfortable about resting players, especially with the Arizona Cardinals not looking like they’re slowing down any time soon, giving more and more players some rest is a luxury the Panther still can’t afford to fall back on.