By Shawn S. Lealos
The Carolina Panthers only lost one game this season and head into the NFL playoffs with the best record in football and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. That means that they get to sit at home this week and watch the teams that they might play in the divisional playoffs. Unlike many teams, they are not resting wounded players, either. Outside of No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin being lost for the season before it ever began, the Panthers have been uninjured for much of the year. This week, they did lose a key starter, but other than that they remain healthy and hungry for the playoffs. Here is a look at the Panthers injuries heading into the postseason.
Charles Tillman Has a Torn ACL
The Carolina Panthers entered the final week of the NFL season with the No. 1 seed, but had not yet secured that placement. The Arizona Cardinals were only one game back, so the two teams were playing to win in the last week. However, the Carolina Panthers went out and dominated in their game to lock up the seed and Arizona realized they had nothing to lose, so they rested their stars for much of the game. That helped Arizona, but it hurt Carolina because they lost cornerback Charles Tillman for the playoffs with a torn ACL suffered in that final game.
A Depleted Cornerback Corps
The Charles Tillman injury really hurts the Panthers, because their secondary is beaten up badly heading into the postseason. The Panthers also lost cornerback Bene Benwikere a few weeks back. Benwikere is a slot corner and he broke his leg in the Panthers’ 38-0 blowout win over the Atlanta Falcons last month. Benwikere actually started in place of Tillman earlier in the season when he was resting his already sore knee. The team still has Josh Norman, a candidate for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but the only other player worth much is Cortland Finnegan, who came out of retirement to join Carolina in early December.
Kelvin Benjamin Returns to Practice
Looking ahead to the 2016 NFL season, Kelvin Benjamin returned to practice for the first time this week. For fans who remember training camp and preseason, the Panthers lost Benjamin for the season before it ever started and many people wrote off the Panthers at that time. While Benjamin can’t rejoin the team in the postseason because of his injured reserve status, his return to the practice field makes some optimistic for 2016.
“When Kelvin went down, people wanted me to sign every 95-year-old wide receiver that ever put a pad on,’’ general manager Dave Gettleman said. However, Carolina ignored the doomsayers and kept who they had and are 15-1 heading into the postseason. Imagine when they have Benjamin back next season.
Ted Ginn Jr. Ready to Return
Ted Ginn Jr.’s career had been considered a flop in his career before arriving at Carolina. In an eight-year career that spanned Miami, San Francisco, Carolina, and Arizona, Ginn proved to be fast, but had unreliable hands. He enjoyed the best season of his career in 2015, with 44 receptions for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was also the big play threat in the offense. However, he missed the final game of the season with a knee injury. Ginn said that he could have played if needed and has been working on the side this week, preparing for his role in the playoffs.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. aExaminer.com.