NFL Commentary: The Carolina Panthers, Sleeper In the NFC, or Overrated?
A Surprise Team in 2013.
One of the many things that we as fans like about the National Football League is how unpredictable an NFL season can be. There is always that one team, or several teams that manage to throw monkey wrenches into early season predictions made by fans and analyst. Think about it - who realistically expected the Kansas City Chiefs to be the lone undefeated team at this point in the season?
Many of us have our allegiances to our favorite teams, and many of us watch various sports-related programs to follow what's happening around the league. One of the teams that is being talked about quite a bit as of late are the Carolina Panthers, and the recent hype is fairly justifiable. The Panthers are currently on a 5 game winning streak and at 6-3, they are only one game behind the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South.
Although the Panthers are arguably one of the hottest teams in the NFL for the moment, there are still legitimate questions as to how serious they are as a potential sleeper in the NFC. With all that said, are the Carolina Panthers a sleeper in the NFL- or are they're a highly overrated team that has benefited from an early season soft schedule. Those are the questions that will be explored in the following paragraphs.
Much of the shock to the Carolina Panthers success so far this season can be attributed to how they've performed in recent seasons. Since their 8-8 record in 2009, the Panthers have failed to even crack .500 in the last three seasons. The worst run during that stretch of meager seasons came in 2010, when the Panthers finished with a dismal record of 2-14; worst in the NFL during 2010.
Following 2010, ownership and management attempted remedy the poor season by changing up personnel from the coaching staff all the way down to the players. Having the #1 draft pick in 2011, the Panthers selected 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Newton was expected to be the teams' quarterback of the future, but obtaining Newton didn't mean that overnight success was something that would be happening anytime soon.
2011 saw the Panthers improve upon 2010 to finish 6-10 under new head coach Ron Rivera. In 2012, the Panthers finish 7-9 and although they missed out on the playoffs once again, it appeared that the overhaul of the coaching staff along with drafting the versatile Newton was paying off in the short run. Despite the improvements in their record since hiring Ron Rivera as head coach and drafting Cam Newton, the majority of sports pundits still didn't view Carolina as a real threat to the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South crown. Headed into the 2013 season, expectations for the Panthers were still a mediocre team that couldn't contend with a Saints team gaining their head coach Sean Payton back.
Thus far in 2013, the Carolina Panthers have nearly outperformed what they've done in the past several seasons. Ironically, they've done this with same core of players they've had the last couple of seasons. So why have the Carolina Panthers performed well so far? I'm going to offer a few reasons why I think they're doing much better in 2013.
- The Development of Cam Newton Into A Passing Quarterback: Since entering the NFL in 2011, Cam Newton hasn't been regarded as a highly accurate nor prolific passing quarterback. The majority of the 24 year old's success has been with his ability to make plays as a scrambling quarterback. However this season, Newton has made strides at becoming a better quarterback from a passing standpoint. So far, Newton has completed 62.7% of his pass attempts for 1,970 yards. He's thrown 13 TD passes along with 8 interceptions. The 62.7 percent completion rate is currently the highest of his still young career. Newton has still had games where he's struggled through the air, and he's only thrown for 300 yards or more in one game so far. However, he's still getting his numbers on the ground to complement his substandard passing, and he's scored 4 rushing touchdowns so far this season. Newton's improvement from an aerial standpoint has to make Carolina fans happy, and I believe it's greatly helped the Panthers offense so far.
- A Stout Front Seven on Defense: I personally think that the Carolina Panthers defense is the primary reason they're sitting where they are right now. The Panthers defense has been a stout and stingy one towards opposing offenses in 2013. Out of their nine games so far, the Panthers have only allowed 20 or more points to their opponents on two occasions(Bills-24, Cardinals-22). Carolina's defense currently ranks second overall, only allowing 283.3 total yards per game. The Panthers front seven has completely shutdown opposing teams rushing attacks, and they've gotten to and pressured teams' quarterbacks as well. Their pass rush has been led by defensive ends Greg Hardy(5.0 sacks) and Charles Johnson(8.5 sacks). Carolina has also been effective at creating turnovers. They've forced 9 total fumbles, and have obtained 13 interceptions so far. People may question how legit Carolina's team as a whole is, but there is no questioning how tough this defense is.
- A Fresh Running Attack: The majority of NFL teams have committee backfields at running back, but the Panthers probably have one of the deepest backfields in the league. Running back DeAngelo Williams has spearheaded the rushing attack in 2013 with 135 carries for 565 yards. Also, quarterback Cam Newton has contributed to the running attack like he has done since entering the league. Newton has ran the ball 63 times for 266 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Then, you have goal-line bruiser Mike Tolbert, tied with Cam Newton with 4 rushing touchdowns. Finally, running back Jonathan Stewart is back after spending the first six games on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Having three quality running backs along with a dangerous rushing quarterback will drive fantasy footballers nuts. However, this isn't fantasy football we're talking about here, and with all the various style of running backs the Panthers have, it should allow their backs to stay fresh headed down the season's home stretch.
Overrated, or Sleeper in the NFC.
So are the Carolina Panthers overrated at this point, or are they a potential sleeper in the NFC? Before I give my opinion, lets have a look at how the Panthers schedule looks for the remainder of the season.
- Week 11: New England Patriots
- Week 12: at Miami Dolphins
- Week 13: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Week 14: at New Orleans Saints
- Week 15: New York Jets
- Week 16: New Orleans Saints
- Week 17: at Atlanta Falcons
The Panthers have a very tough game this week against the New England Patriots. That game will be aired on ESPN's 'Monday Night Football'. Now as good as the Panthers defense has been up until this point, they're going to have a hard time facing Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, which is an offense that is pretty much the healthiest it's been all season. Now as important as that game will be for Carolina, I think the games that will be the most telling for them will be in weeks 14 and 16 against the New Orleans Saints.
With both the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers pretty much out of the playoff picture, the battle for the NFC South's division crown will be a two team battle. Although the Saints currently maintain a narrow lead in the division, it's very plausible that the Carolina Panthers could eventually take the division. Of course they will have to defeat a very tough Saints team that is much improved on defense, and are currently firing on all cylinders offensively.
One thing that I'm a firm believer of is that defense wins games. When you pair the Panthers defense with their rushing attack and an improved Cam Newton, I think you have a team that is playoff bound. I know that the Panthers have had a fairly team friendly schedule so far this season, but I really do believe in this team's defense.
So to answer the question, I think that the Carolina Panthers are a legitimate sleeper in the NFC. I'm not predicting a division title, a long playoff run, or a trip to the Super Bowl. What I am saying is that I think this is a team that could potential surprise people, and could knock off almost any team in the NFC. I wouldn't sleep on the Panthers at this point. This team is very underrated in my opinion. We'll find out if I'm wrong in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading.
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