The 13-0 Carolina Panthers have been one of the 2015-16 season’s major success stories behind Cam Newton’s strong offensive leadership and one of the best defences in the league.
As the last unbeaten team, the Panthers are subject to a lot of speculation regarding whether they can complete a ‘perfect’ season, only three teams have ever achieved this feat, but also whether they have a chance of winning Super Bowl 50.
Fielding one of the NFL’s youngest squads, it might be suggested that they lack the experience of Brady or Manning lead teams that have dominated playoffs in recent history and although the team is exceptionally balanced they rely very heavily on Cam who is, to quote a popular sports cliché, ‘one tackle away’ from season-ending injury.
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The Panther’s success so far, however, is no real surprise. Since drafting Cam Newton in 2011, they have continually improved as a team and even though their overall record dropped last season they still managed to retain the NFC South title.
With Cam Newton now in his fifth year at the Panthers, he is already looking like a true superstar quarterback. This is down to a number or reasons but mainly hinges on his greater involvement with the organising of offensive schemes, his ability to run the football whilst maintaining good passing stats and the respect he has earned from his teammates.
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There has also been increased success for ‘running’ quarterbacks over the last couple of years with both Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick making it to the Super Bowl in the last three years. The former winning it and then returning the following season while the latter narrowly lost out against the Ravens in 2013.
It can be argued however that the Panthers have gotten to 13-0 on the back of relatively easy fixtures. Before the season, whilst preparing for my fantasy draft, I did pick up on a few teams that I thought had the most winnable schedules such as the Tamp Bay Buccaneers but also the Carolina Panthers.
So far this season the Panthers have only had to play four teams who made last year’s playoffs and have no more left to play which suggests an easy run. This is on top of being in the NFC South where no other team currently has a winning record and where they just destroyed their nearest divisional rival, the Atlanta Falcons, 38-0.
Not everything has gone the Panthers way this season however as they lost their number one receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, in the preseason. This caused a lot of people, including myself, to write off the Panthers’ Superbowl chances and allowed them to go somewhat under the radar in the early part of the season despite the favourable matchups.
Therefore what they have achieved so far this season without their best receiver makes their 13-0 record all the more impressive and suggests that there is a lot more to the team, the defence that is leading the league in interceptions (21) and the O-line that has allowed the least QB hits (48), that also deserve the credit.
Overall, the Panthers Superbowl expectations are probably a little over inflated because of their untarnished record against weaker teams but I bet that anyone of the players on that squad would rather go 8-8 and get a ring than 16-0 and lose in the wildcard round.