The Carolina Panthers have made a habit over the past few years of starting the season slowly and poorly, destroying their chances at the playoffs before they can even begin to blossom. This year, however is a different story. The Panthers started the season in predictable fashion, losing consecutive games in the fourth quarter, and the bounty on Ron Rivera‘s head increasing by the minute. They have won four of five since then and have a solid grip on the second place spot in the division, as well as being in prime position for the final wild card spot in the NFC, assuming that the 49ers stay on their toes and hold the fifth spot, or someone else joins the party. Carolina’s biggest woes over the past few seasons have come primarily from fourth-quarter collapses and critical turnovers by Cam Newton, as well as poor game management by Ron Rivera. Those issues have been addressed in recent weeks, as Newton doesn’t have a turnover in the last three games, due in part to his hyper-efficient and smart decision making.
Newton is taking fewer risks now, which is critical for the Panthers, and Ron Rivera is now starting to take a few more. Rivera has been timid on fourth down in past years, but he seems to go for it half of the time this season, and those extended drives have really paid off. The defense has been the most impressive, ranking in the top five in almost every category, which means no more defensive collapses.
The most amazing thing about the Panthers’ recent run is that they are doing it without being flashy. While other teams are utilizing complex offensive schemes and hurry-up offenses to maximize their talent, the Panthers are grinding it old school; it sure is working. The Panthers are winning as a team now instead of individuals grabbing attention through stats or big plays, and it is translating into wins. Even Cam Newton isn’t hogging the spotlight, not that he needs to, because as long as he keeps winning he will continue to be the man in Carolina. Soon the real test will come, though, once the Panthers face some stiff competition. Then we’ll see just how hot their fire burns.
However, if the Chiefs can win again on Sunday and stay unbeaten, then there is simply no way to deny them of the hottest team designation. Carolina has been stellar, but Andy Reid has been a revelation in Kansas City.