Carolina Panthers Midseason MVPs

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Carolina Panthers: Midseason MVPs

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In past years, this article would have never been published anywhere. Over the last two years, the Carolina Panthers have been unbearably disappointing, going 2-6 to start off each year. Neither the coaching staff nor the team could find any sort of consistency or resolve, losing in the fourth quarter again and again, whether it be a last-second touchdown or a crushing turnover.

As the losses piled on, so did the pressure and criticism, and as the weight continued to grow, Cam Newton and Ron Rivera got desperate. Rivera curled up into a ball and did his best not to lose while Newton tried to make very play he thought he could make, but both strategies only exacerbated the issue.

It's difficult to find any silver linings under those circumstances, let alone try to gauge which player is most valuable to the team. Someone would be more likely to write about who most responsible for the problems, or even who is the least valuable, but any sort of praise seems counter-intuitive and borders on enabling.

That was the past however, and the team's present and future are bright. The Panthers are in playoff position for the first time since 2008 with a record of 5-3, and they are even within reach of the division lead, only a game behind the New Orleans Saints. Both the offense and defense look like new units -- the offense a model of old-school efficiency and the defense playing rough-and-tough -- and the wins have come as a result. The whole team and coaching staff could be considered, but only a few truly deserve to be called most valuable.

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5. Graham Gano

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Kickers don't get a lot of love in these types of articles, but the strong-legged Gano has been sensational. He hasn't missed a kick yet this season and he has hit multiple field goals from 50-plus yards, giving a Panthers a reliable option to finish off incomplete drives.

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4. Captain Munnerlyn

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Munnerlyn doesn't get talked about much because he is isn't Luke Kuechly and he doesn't make the huge splashes, but he has been the reason the Panthers' secondary hasn't been exposed. He's only allowed one touchdown in the past two years, and his play has led Carolina to allowing the fewest points in the league with 106.

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3. Luke Kuechly

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Kuechly isn't putting up as many tackles as he did last year due to the improved play of the defensive line, but he is still as good as ever. He analyzes plays before they are even run, and that anticipation allows him to snuff them out and create turnovers, like how he read the seam route to Tony Gonzalez in the first quarter against the Falcons to snag his third pick of the season.

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2. Cam Newton

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Newton was one of the big reasons why the Panthers couldn't find early-season success, forcing plays that ultimately became critical turnovers. This season, he has focused more on playing the quarterback position, taking control of the offense and managing the game rather trying to be a playmaker. He's limited his turnovers and wasted plays, and the Panthers' offense has become a methodical powerhouse and a part of a winning team.

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1. Kawann Short/Star Lotulelei

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina had the pieces of a good defense last season, raking in the top-15 against the run and the pass, but they lacks the interior presence to collapse the pocket and occupy blockers in run game. Lotulelei and Short have been impact players right from the start, and the defense has risen to an elite level. Their styles complement each other perfectly. Short's penetrating ability allowing him to make his way into the backfield while Lotulelei pushes back double-teams, creating havoc for opposing offenses.


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