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Panthers won’t pull a win out of their hats

It has reached that awkward point in the Panthers’ season where there’s talk about seeing what the young players can do in games to get a jump on next season.

That’s like going to a dinner party at a friend’s house and all you can compliment is the table cloth. Ooh, is this from Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel?

It has been an awkward season for the Panthers, in case you hadn’t noticed. They started slowly, fired general manager Marty Hurney and nothing much has changed. Even David Copperfield would be impressed by how the Panthers have turned what could easily be a 7-5 record into 3-9.

Watch this failed fourth-down play at Atlanta. Watch this touchdown pass at Ben Hartsock’s feet. Watch Steve Smith slip and fall in Chicago.

But the Panthers are soldiering on. Ron Rivera, one of the most admirable people you can ever meet, is insistent this season can be turned around. This is, of course, the time for Christmas lists.

And the shopping days are running out.

ATLANTA at CAROLINA: The Panthers were, perhaps, one play away from beating the Falcons in Atlanta earlier this season. It won’t be that close this time, though it was refreshing to hear some smack talk from the Panthers this week. Falcons 31, Panthers 20.

ST. LOUIS at BUFFALO: Can’t believe the NFL didn’t flex this one to prime time. Bills 24, Rams 21.

DALLAS at CINCINNATI: The Cowboys aren’t great but they’re fun to watch. Kind of a guilty pleasure, like watching “Nashville.” Bengals 33, Cowboys 24.

KANSAS CITY at CLEVELAND: Life goes on for the Chiefs. Maybe Brady Quinn gets a measure of sweet redemption in front of the Dawg Pound. Maybe not. Browns 20, Chiefs 17.

TENNESSEE at INDIANAPOLIS: The NFL’s story of the season keeps rolling along. Colts 27, Titans 17.

NEW YORK JETS at JACKSONVILLE: The Jets are a certifiable mess. The Jaguars are the league’s most invisible team. But because Tim Tebow is going home this weekend, it’s going to be the NFL version of those awful celebrity gossip shows on television. Look, it’s Tebow getting off the plane. Look, it’s Tebow arriving at the stadium. Look, it’s Tebow not playing again. Jags 17, Jets 13.

CHICAGO at MINNESOTA: Just keep giving the ball to Adrian Peterson. Vikings 20, Bears 14.

SAN DIEGO at PITTSBURGH: Somehow, it seems, the Steelers always find a way to get it done, even with Charlie Batch quarterbacking against the Ravens. And somehow, it seems, the Chargers find ways not to get it done. Steelers 26, Chargers 14.

PHILADELPHIA at TAMPA BAY: Call me crazy – just don’t call me maybe – but I think the Eagles still have something left. Upset special: Eagles 23, Bucs 20.

BALTIMORE at WASHINGTON: Has anyone asked RG3 to fix this fiscal cliff mess? He seems to have plenty of good answers to things. Ravens 20, Redskins 17.

MIAMI at SAN FRANCISCO: After the loss to St. Louis, I’m guessing 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has chewed some, uh, attitude this week. 49ers 34, Dolphins 14.

NEW ORLEANS at NEW YORK GIANTS: Now that the Big Easy is going to rename its NBA team the Pelicans, there’s a movement to bring the Hornets name back to Charlotte. I’m good with that, though I’m surprised by how passionate some people are about it. If it happens, it needs to be all in. Hugo. Teal and purple. But they don’t have to play “Shout” at the end of victories. No one ever needs to play that again. Giants 30, Saints 24.

ARIZONA at SEATTLE: The Russell Wilson story may be more successful than the “Twilight” saga. Seahawks 29, Cardinals 17.

DETROIT at GREEN BAY: A December game in Lambeau Field with a chance of snow. Global warming can’t mess with tradition. Packers 28, Lions 21.

HOUSTON at NEW ENGLAND: Excluding the year he was injured, Tom Brady has led the Patriots to the division title in 10 of 11 seasons. And you thought he was just good looking. Texans 24, Patriots 21.

Last week: 9-5

Season: 112-63

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