By David Brown
As the Carolina Panthers continue to extend a somewhat improbable undefeated season, the team has already clinched a playoff spot in the NFC with three weeks left to play and sit at number one in the power rankings.
After making the playoffs in a weak division in the 2014-2015 season, the Panthers went 7-8-1 where they lost in the second round to the Seattle Seahawks. Low expectations stuck with the Panthers through the offseason as sport analysts and writers doubted their legitimacy as real contenders.
The players and coaches responded accordingly.
With the team on the rise, head coach Ron Rivera is now a legitimate contender for coach of the year after the teams longest win streak in franchise history. Rivera’s offense has been deadly to opposing teams this year sitting at number one in points per game with 31.
Cam Newton’s play has been a determining factor in Carolinas undefeated season as he has stepped up significantly as a leader on and off the field. Newton is sixth in touchdowns thrown this year and is tied for sixth with seven rushing touchdowns.
Being nearly impossible to defend in the red zone, Newton has proven to be more than reliable this season in the passing game. The progress made has earned him a contending spot for MVP, although his stats aren’t at the top of the league, he has still been a clutch playmaker that has led his team to thirteen straight wins. Pretty hard to argue against those results.
As the offense is dabbing on the sidelines, the Carolina defense has shown elite status on the field as well.
Jonathan Stewart has also been a key contributor in the Panthers high scoring offense. Stewart is third in the league with 989 rushing yards and is second in the league with 242 attempts. Stewart has racked up five touchdowns and averages 79.2 yards per game and has continued to be a workhorse for this offense. It is worth noting that Stewart was injured last week with a sprained foot. He’ll miss the game this Sunday against the Giants but is expected to be fine for the playoffs.
Greg Olsen, one of the top tight ends in the NFL, leads the Panthers and all NFL tight ends in targets, being thrown the ball 107 times. Olsen leads the team in receiving yards with 969 and has pulled in six receiving touchdowns, second in the league among tight ends.
Throughout these 13 games the Panthers are first in the league in points per game and are second in the league for most rushing yards per game.
As the offense is dabbing on the sidelines, the Carolina defense has shown elite status on the field as well. Carolina’s D is third among yards per game and fourth in rushing yards per game. This defense is most dangerous in its turnover ratios.
The Panthers lead the league in takeaways with 33 total. With one of the top linebacker cores in the NFL, Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly lead the team with a combined 119 tackles and 17 turnovers. Both with high expectations to make the Pro Bowl. This defense only gives up an average of eighteen points per game, the lowest in the league.
This Carolina team’s surprise breakout year has led many to believe the squad as Super Bowl material. They seem to have all the components to be considered a Super bowl team and have proved that through their undefeated season.
As the season wraps up this team’s future is still a debate and it will be interesting to see them in the playoffs. Will the Panthers go undefeated? Could this be Carolina’s time to bring home the Lombardi trophy? Has Cam done enough to earn the MVP award? The Carolina Panthers proved everyone wrong, and yet, have so much more to prove.
Cover Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)