Panthers on path for playoffs?

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
4:45
PM ET
In their latest installment of Hot Button, Ashley Fox and John Clayton debate which non-playoff team is poised to get to the postseason next year.

Fox takes the Eagles and that’s not a stretch. There’s no question the Eagles have all sorts of talent. But they underachieved and there’s no guarantee they won’t do it again next season.

Clayton says the Carolina Panthers are set up to head to the playoffs next season. I’m with Clayton on this one. Clayton compares the Panthers to the Detroit Lions of a year ago. The Lions finished strong last season and have made the playoffs this season.

The Panthers also are finishing their season with some momentum. They’ve shown they can score with anybody with Cam Newton as their quarterback. They’ve had some issues on defense, but middle linebacker Jon Beason and defensive tackle Ron Edwards should return from injuries. That will help and I anticipate the Panthers will use a few draft picks and sign a few free agents on the defensive side of the ball.

Will that be enough to get them to the playoffs? I see two obstacles in the way -- the Saints and the Falcons. They already are playoff teams and I don’t see either one of them falling apart next season. But Newton has given the Panthers something they’ve never really had before. That’s a dynamic offense.

If Carolina can just put together a decent defense, the Panthers could be playoff contenders next season.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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