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Carolina Panthers Regroups and Other NFL Thoughts

The final week of the NFL season and there is still plenty of questions to be answered concerning playoff positioning. Two slots are still open in the AFC, while all six playoff teams have been decided in the NFC.

Carolina and Arizona appear to be the best of the bunch – no matter which team comes out of the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The Panthers lost for the first time last week, which may be a godsend instead of a blemish on the road to history. Winning 16 games in the regular season and then three games on the way to the league’s biggest prize has been polarizing. For Josh Norman, who is enjoying his finest season in Carolina’s secondary, it has become a burden on the team.

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“Yeah, it’s been a long, long season,” Norman said, via ESPN.com. “A very long season, the amount of games we’ve played, everybody giving us their best shot. The media, always something.

“It’s been a toll, man.”

Despite playing what was the worst game of the season, Norman’s game this year has elevated him as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

“I’ve been playing at a high caliber for so long, I can’t just stop now,’’ he said. “I can’t let off the gas now,” he added.

CHANGES COMING IN CLEVELAND

Now that the Cleveland Browns will close the season without Johnny Manziel at quarterback, all bets are off as to whether he or the team’s head coach, Mike Pettine, will be back next season.

Pettine, who has been candid with the media this season – a year that has been complicated and tumultuous – said he would make changes to the coaching staff if he is given the chance to return in 2016.

“Those discussions will remain between Jimmy (Haslam) and I,” he said. “Will there likely be some changes? If I were to stay here, it would be hard to justify keeping the staff completely together, and there likely would have to be some changes made, but I won’t get into specifics.”

Pettine might not be the only one fighting to keep his job after Sunday. Team general manager Ray Farmer has also been under a microscope by both the organization and the media this season.

Although the team has had issues on offense, the defense has been a problem all season. With Pettine focusing more on offense this season, the defense tumbled to 26th overall, 32nd against the run and 29th with 26.9 points allowed per game.

THE SEAT IS STILL HOT

Although the team has won six games and has shown improvement since the organization fired its general manager and offensive coordinator, head coach Jim Caldwell still remains on a very hot seat in Detroit.

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The news, which is obvious to everyone including Caldwell, is not something he wants to let his players worry about.

“I don’t want that to get misconstrued, either,” Caldwell said. “I think that often times what you do just in terms of trying to make a case for yourself or whatever that might be, that’s certainly not my intent because of the fact that I don’t believe in defending one’s self.”

The Lions finish the season against the Chicago Bears. Caldwell’s fate could be sealed depending on what happens on Sunday, or the team could have already made a decision to retain or part ways. Calvin Johnson, the team’s All-Pro wide receiver has been vocal about Caldwell’s situation and has professed his desire to see him remain on the sidelines in 2016.

Johnson will not have a say in what decision is made by management. Detroit hired Rod Wood as the team’s new president and Wood has said multiple times the new general manager would decide Caldwell’s future.

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