In early November when three other teams - the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos - raced to equally perfect 8-0 winning records, it may have been easy to overlook the unfancied Carolina Panthers’ march among their esteemed company.
Between the manner in which Tom Brady and co. blew opponents away, seemingly at will in the early part of the season, the talk of Bill Belichick’s juggernaut surpassing the great Patriots side of 2007 and the excellent Denver defence carrying a faltering Peyton Manning to weekly wins, the Panthers seemed to fly completely under the radar.
Under the radar
Indeed, until some of the hype subsided after each of the early season favorites lost games, nobody had really caught up to the fact that something special was in prospect down at Charlotte.
SIGN UP NOW
Want to become a GMS writer? Sign up now and submit a 250 word test article: http://gms.to/haveyoursay4
Article continues below
It is Ron Riviera’s side, at 13-0 currently, who remain the only unbeaten team in all four NFL divisions through week 14, with the playoffs just a few weeks away.
With a first-round bye secured after Sunday's 38-0 blow out win against the Atlanta Falcons, can they now seriously start thinking about a first appearance at the Super Bowl since 2003?
Article continues below
This season's 50th annual showpiece will be held at San Francisco's Levi's Stadium with an estimated global audience of over 100 million fans (and growing) and a half-time performance by, er...Coldplay.
Yet, despite their brilliant quarterback Cam Newton producing MVP calibre form under centre and a defence which ranks among the best in the league, questions about whether Carolina have the tools at their disposal to do the unthinkable still refuse to go away.
The Panthers, seen traditionally as a run-first team, have continued to make excellent gains on the ground. Their complex running game, which cleverly creates gaps for explosive runner Jonathan Stewart to exploit and even Newton himself as a barnstorming rusher is undoubtedly difficult to stop.
But despite a perfect record, Cam’s accuracy and the time afforded from a vastly improved offensive line to throw the ball from the pocket, only tight end Greg Olsen (969) looks set to surpass 1,000 receiving yards.
Beyond Newton's favourite target, nobody else except Ted Ginn, Jr. has accumulated more than 600 yards. To put this in context; Julian Edelman of the Patriots had already amassed nearly 700 yards before missing the last four games with injury.
At their closest NFC rival, David Johnson - Arizona Cardinals' rookie running back - has only 30 fewer receiving yards than the Panthers' highly touted wide receiver Devin Funchess.
It's fair to say their passing options still don’t stand up too favourably against other playoff-bound teams. But if anything, their receiving stats point to how complete and efficient a unit the Panthers have become.
Whilst many other teams boast better weapons through the air, it is Carolina, more than any other who have been able to impose their style of play and translate their strengths into all important wins.
At every turn, Carolina has confounded expectations and passed some big tests of their credentials along the way. Cam Newton has backed his bravado again and again.
There will be twists before a typically unpredictable NFL season reaches its conclusion in Santa Clara and only two teams have ever gone through the regular season undefeated, but the league's only constant this season are well on course to gate-crash the party.
Who would deny Newton a trademark end-zone dance on the biggest stage of them all? Just please Cam, not at half-time. Nobody will be dancing to Coldplay, right?
Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE: http://gms.to/writeforgms