For the first time since 2014, the Carolina Panthers go into a regular season game with a losing record. Sunday's performance in the 22-10 defeat to Minnesota was very disappointing. It's been an extremely difficult week for the city of Charlotte, but here's threereasons why Panthers fans have every right to be optimistic as they go into their first divisional game of the season.

1. They still play in the NFC South

Back in 2014 the Panthers won the division with a 7-8-1 record. Whilst I am in no way saying they’ll have a losing record this year, it’ll be a far cry from last year’s 15-1. To their advantage, they play 6 divisional games against teams with below average defenses.

The Saints have possibly the worst defense in football with the Falcons not far behind. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay conceded 37 points to Case Keenum and the Rams in a home loss on Sunday. In fact, all three of Carolina’s divisional rivals have conceded more than 90 points each through the first three games of the season

This Sunday the Panthers will playAtlanta for the first time this year. The Falcons may have the best offense in the NFL so far, but they have only played Tampa Bay, Oakland and New Orleans. Carolina’s stiff defense will easily be the toughest test Matt Ryan has had in 2016. Star receiver Julio Jones only had 16 receiving yards on Monday night and we simply don’t know how healthy he is going into week 4.

2. KB’s comeback.

A week after a 100-yard game, which included a circus catch, Kelvin Benjamin had zero receptions and only one target. That target came with under 3 minutesleft in the game. ESPN reporter David Newton commented after the game that it was the first game since 2012 in which Benjamin, then at Florida State, had not had a single catch.

Against a weaker Atlanta defense, all Panthers fans hope that offensive coordinator Mike Shula ensures that Benjamin finds the ball, and therefore the endzone this week.

3. The new no. 24 is looking every bit as good as the Old One.

That’s high praise indeed for a rookie, but so far it is certainly well deserved.

In week 1, James Bradberry matched up against Demaryius Thomas and limited him to 48 yards on 4 catches. In week 3, he limited Stefon Diggs to 34 yards on 3 catches. In week 2, he was the highest graded corner in the league by PFF. This week Bradberry lines up opposite Julio Jones, one of best receivers in the NFL.

Bradberry is confident going into this match up, saying “I feel like I’m a great corner” and “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to look forward to that type of competition.” Not quite the soundbites Panthers fans are used to from their number 24, but Bradberry is well on his way to being a similar type of corner to the one he replaced.

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