The NFC South had developed a reputation for parity since its inception in 2002, producing a new division winner almost every year.
The Carolina Panthers were once a part of that revolving door of division leaders, but they haven’t won the division since 2008, when Jake Delhomme was their quarterback, and they haven’t even been close to getting back there since Delhomme’s infamous five-interception game against the future Super Bowl runner-up Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.
New Orleans and Atlanta have dominated the division in recent years, including a Super Bowl title for New Orleans, and the Panthers just couldn’t seem to squeeze through.
The 2013 season has been much different however. The combination of Atlanta’s and Tampa Bay’s struggles made it seem like the New Orleans Saints would be the only team to make the playoffs out of the division with the Panthers also going 1-3 to start the season. The Panthers have since won four straight games though to emerge as a clear playoff contender, and have put a stranglehold on the second place spot in the division.
If the Panthers can continue their success, they should be a lock for a wild card spot, their first playoff appearance since “Double Trouble” led them to a 12-4 record, not to mention a division title.
The Panthers have their eyes on something much greater than just a playoff spot, however. With New Orleans’ surprising loss to the New York Jets (Rex Ryan‘s third consecutive win against his brother Rob Ryan, the Saints’ defensive coordinator), the Panther are only one game out from the division lead. The Panthers may very well be able to close that gap as well through a combination of playing styles and weather.
As the year gets older and the air gets colder, it becomes harder and harder to throw the ball effectively, and a strong running game and defense become essential. The Panthers live off of their defense and run game, while the Saints are married to their complex passing game. Fate may be in the Panthers’ favor in the coming weeks.