Stewart and Newton.

Carolina Panthers remain undefeated - but just how good are they?

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As Carolina squeak past New Orleans to move to 12-0, the debate about whether or not this team can go the season undefeated has begun to intensify.

Finishing the regular season with an unblemished record seems a distinct possibility but expectations are that this team may have the potential to challenge the record held by the '78 Dolphins of going an entire NFL season undefeated.

The case for the Panthers is fairly straightforward. They have already wrapped up their division, both Tampa Bay and Atlanta can no longer catch them.


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Of their remaining four games, two are against the free falling Falcons and one against the lacklustre Bucs, who the Panthers dispatched by a margin of two scores in Tampa Bay earlier this season.

The fourth game is against the New York Giants, one of the teams languishing in the mediocrity of the NFC East. None of these teams have a record over .500 and, aside from Tampa who won their last game, the Falcons and Giants are on losing streaks without signs of stopping.

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Add to this the fact that the Panthers, at 12-0, seem to be playing with an increasing swagger and confidence, entirely embodied in the play of Cam Newton.

On either side of a curiously quiet performance in Dallas, the quarterback amassed ten touchdowns over two games. This was accomplished with a receiving corps that is severely lacking in any real threat targets, aside from tight-end Greg Olsen.

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints

They also have a solid, if unspectacular running game led by Jonathan Stewart which takes some pressure off of Newton offensively and a solid defense anchored by Luke Kuechly in the middle.

NFC picture

Comparing the form of the Panthers to the rest of the NFC at the moment, Carolina should feel fairly confident about emerging atop the pile en route to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota and Green Bay continue to squabble over top spot in the North, both looking vaguely unconvincing.

The Vikings, as usual, are overtly reliant on running back Adrian Peterson whilst Green Bay have hit a run of bad form over the last few weeks.

In the East, at the time of writing each team in the division holds a record under .500, it is a shambles.

The only cause for concern may come from the West where Arizona have overcome the loss of both first and second string running backs by dispatching St. Louis with contemptuous ease, while Seattle have kept their playoff hopes alive by thumping the Vikings 38-7.

Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings

Fear factor

Yet there is something unconvincing about these Panthers.

Despite their perfect record, there seems to be something lacking. For a 12-0 team they don't seem as dominant as the 2007 Patriots, the last team to go undefeated in the regular season.

Newton has nowhere near the same stats as Brady had that season at this point (218-373 for 2,797 and 25 touchdowns vs 298-433 for 3,604 and 37 touchdowns). His receivers pale in comparison to Brady's who had Moss, Brown, Welker and Stallworth to spread the ball round to.

Even though Carolina's defense has played well, New England's outfit that season boasted a whole host of experienced veterans in Bruschi, Vrabel, Seau, Wilfork, Seymour, Harrison and Samuel.

The Patriots also benefited from a very poor division, all three of their divisional rivals finished below .500.

In the playoffs, they dismissed the 11-5 Jaguars followed by the 11-5 San Diego Chargers before falling to the Giants in Superbowl XLII.

Whether the Panthers are capable of emulating New England's achievement, and going that one step further, remains to be seen. Their schedule is certainly kind enough to get them to the end of the regular season undefeated.

Their lack of experience may hurt them in the playoffs though, as the high pressure environment of knock-out football will be new territory for this young team.

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints

Though maybe this is Carolina's time, and whatever happens in the postseason could herald a new era of dominance for the Panthers in the NFC. First things first though, getting  by the visiting  Falcons on the 13th December.

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Carolina Panthers
Minnesota Vikings
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Atlanta Falcons
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