With their record sitting at just 1-2 and their lone victory coming against a mess of a New York Giants team in week three, there aren’t many people talking about the Carolina Panthers right now. Coming off of their bye week, though, the Panthers are still very much in the hunt to make the NFL Playoffs as a wildcard team.
For starters, the Panthers could and probably should be 5-2 coming out of week eight. Their opponents in order for the next four weeks are the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those four teams have a combined record of just 4-12 after weeks and only the Cardinals, the Panthers’ week five opponent, have a .500 record. As the season goes on, their schedule gets more difficult, but the potential of a 5-2 start is undoubtedly promising.
Looking at how the Panthers have performed, though, their record isn’t all that indicative of what they’ve done this season. In week one, Carolina dropped a defensive slugfest to a now 4-0 Seattle Seahawks by a score of just 12-7. In week two, the Panthers fell victim to some poor coaching and a last-second comeback touchdown against the not-as-terrible-as-we-might-have-thought Buffalo Bills. Then before their bye week in week three, they absolutely trounced the Giants by a count of 38-0.
The driving force of the Panthers’ solid play this season has undoubtedly been their defense. Carolina currently ranks third in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 12 points per game, and also rank 10th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per game, allowing only 318.7 yards per game thus far. Their pass defense has been slightly above average, but it’s the effort of their front seven in getting to the quarterback and stopping the run that has been huge for them. Through three games they already have 10 sacks and are allowing just 93 rushing yards per game, the seventh best rate in the league.
If the Panthers are going to make a run at a wildcard spot, though, their offense is going to have to pick up the slack, particularly the much talked about quarterback, Cam Newton. By no means has Newton been a problem this season, but he also hasn’t been as dynamic as many would like him to be. Through three games, Newton has passed for a total of just 577 yards and is completing only 59.1 percent of his passes, though he does have six touchdown passes to only two interceptions. However, he hasn’t made up for it much on the ground, rushing the ball just 16 times thus far this season for just 98 yards and one touchdown.
Granted, much of Newton’s lack of attacking on the ground and some of his overall lack of production is the “fault” of the re-emergence of DeAngelo Williams, but Cam is the backbone of this team. As the Panthers try to get going over this four-game stretch and beyond, Newton is going to have to be the guy that helps the offense get going to make sure the defense’s effort isn’t all for naught.
Based on their schedule, their defense, and the talent that the Panthers have, this could be a playoff team in the NFC where there is a large gap between the good and the bad. If Carolina is going to establish themselves as part of the good, though, this upcoming stretch for them is going to be key.
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