The Carolina Panthers remain undefeated, and the NFL should be worried.
The Panthers are 10-0 after a 44-16 beatdown of the Washington Redskins that saw Cam Newton throw five touchdowns.
While the Panthers have looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders for some time now, their hot start no longer a fluke, they’re quickly becoming the team nobody will want to see in January (or February).
Cam Newton has been mentioned as an MVP candidate, but the reality is, statistically, he had been an average quarterback most of the season.
This year, Newton’s completion percentage is down from last season, and while his touchdown percentage and adjusted yards per attempt are up, his interception percentage and sack percentage are also up. His passer rating is higher than in 2014, but not as high as past years. Newton’s been good, of course, but he hasn’t been the best quarterback in the league
However, in the last two weeks Newton is heating up. His Week 11 evisceration of Washington was efficient in every way — 21-34 passing for 246 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions, with a 123.3 passer rating. Over the last three games, Newton has thrown nine touchdowns with just one interception.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Newton’s season is the offensive weapons he’s working with. After second-year receiver Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in training camp, Newton has relied upon tight end Greg Olsen first and foremost while making valuable receivers out of players like Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess, and Jerricho Cotchery.
Jonathan Stewart has become a solid running back, ranking seventh in total rushing yards. However, his 3.9 yards per attempt ranks only 32nd in the NFL, and he’s only had two games with over 100 rushing yards.
Still the Panthers are 10th in offensive DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. They’re a team that’s gaining momentum on offence as Newton heats up, Stewart gains traction (239 rushing yards, two touchdowns in November), and the receiving corps. gain familiarity with Newton. For all of the talk that the Panthers are a shallow offensive team, they have a top-10 offence and have scored 20 points or more in every game.
This is partially why the Panthers should be one of the NFL’s most feared teams. Their perceived weakness has become a strength.
While their offence has proven to be fine, their defence has remained as strong as imagined. Carolina is third in Football Outsider’s defensive DVOA, sporting the NFL’s third-best pass defence and 13th-best rush defence.
Luke Kuechy remains the face of the defence, but the Panthers have had other players emerge as defensive threats. Kawann Short is one of Pro Football Focus’ best pass rushers and he’s 12th in the league in sacks. Josh Norman has had a huge breakout season, ranking third in the NFL in interceptions with four. He’s had help from linebacker Thomas Davis, who has three.
Together, the Panthers have built a fearsome team on both ends of the ball — a top-10 offence and top-five defence that’s yet to lose. After getting through the only semi-difficult part of their schedule, defeating the Seahawks, Eagles, Colts, and Packers, the Panthers have few true tests left. The Falcons are the only above-.500 team they play the rest of the year, though a fully healthy Cowboys team could give the Panthers trouble.
With a fairly breezy six weeks left, it’s not out of the question to see this Panthers team go undefeated and cruise into the playoffs.
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