NFL Network Reporter Says Panthers Are Rallying Around Ron Rivera

Thursday night’s game between the Bills and Jets is big for obvious reasons. It marks Rex Ryan’s return to New York, it’s a divisional matchup, and it’s a battle of two marquee defenses going at it on short rest.

But it’s also big for another reason: The winner of this game will be in prime position in the AFC Wild Card standings. The Jets (5-3) are currently the 5-seed, while the Bills (4-4), slotted seventh, are on the outside looking in.

Who’s going to win tonight?

“I still am going to go with the Jets just because the Bills have been so inconsistent,” NFL Network reporter Jeff Darlington said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I mean, the two wins against the Dolphins, I think, are the reason why the Bills can still sit here and say we are still in this AFC Wild Card hunt.”

Indeed, the Bills have beaten the Dolphins by a combined 43 points this season. They’re 2-4 against the rest of the league, with the other wins coming against the woeful AFC South (Indianapolis and Tennessee).

The Jets, meanwhile, have lost two of their last three, but they at least played the Patriots tough in Foxboro before losing to the Raiders in Oakland.

Thus, it’s fair to say the Jets a little more proven, a little more tested.

“I’m still going to say just from a consistency standpoint, I’ve liked what the Jets have done better,” Darlington said. “But like you said, it’s all going to be determined by health in the second half of the season. But that AFC Wild Card really does look very much up in the air – both Wild Cards, for that matter, in the AFC. But if you’re in the AFC East, that’s the toughest part: You know you’re going for the Wild Card. You’re not going for the division win. That’s where you’ve got to draw your motivation and start looking at those other teams within the conference.”

Looking at the NFC, the Carolina Panthers (8-0) probably won’t have to worry about the Wild Card. No, at this point, they’re almost a lock to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Not bad for a team that many NFL analysts didn’t consider legit or for real just a few weeks ago.

“That’s the wild thing,” Darlington said. “I think it’s kind of interesting that the pendulum has swung dramatically in the other direction in the amount of respect they’re getting – because I don’t think they were getting enough respect before that Packers win, and now all of a sudden we’re talking about Cam Newton in the MVP discussion. It’s like, okay, let’s not go too far. I think it’s important to point out with the Panthers that what they’re doing so well is grinding out these wins as team – and that does include Cam. That’s not a knock against him, but this is a guy whose passer rating right now is actually lower than it was at this time last year. I know passer rating is not the end-all, be-all stat by any means, but what this team is doing without Kelvin Benjamin on offense, with a defense that just seems to play so gritty – I really think they’re rallying around Ron Rivera. They’re a tough team that has dealt with so much adversity over the past two years. I think they’ve got a never-say-die mentality. I know that sounds cliche, but it feels very real with these Carolina Panthers.”

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