Seven weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers were 1-3 and left for dead. Ron Rivera had his foot out of the door and rumors surfaced about benching Newton after a disastrous loss in Arizona. The team was in disarray and it appeared the Panthers playoff hopes were going to be over before Halloween for the third straight season. The fan base was demoralized, the media continued bashing Newton, the heartbreak was imminent, and an all too familiar feeling for the Panthers fanbase was hovering over the city of Charlotte. Through the adversity, Riverboat Ron was born, begat by the chance cared in monopoly.
Following the blowout loss to the Cardinals something happened to the 2013 Carolina Panthers and the team has been firing on all cylinders for two months. The easiest person to point to when explaining the sudden turnaround is the much belittled head coach Ron Rivera, who following another disastrous last second loss to the Buffalo Bills decided to keep the ball in his offenses hands on 4th and short. Essentially Rivera changed from a coach always calling games not to lose, to a coach calling games to win. For the next month the Panthers blew out everyone in their path to win 4 in a row over relatively inferior teams (St. Louis being the exception). Then came a showdown with the San Francisco 49ers on the road, a game the vast majority of analysts expected to be an easy 49ers win as they where in the midst of their own five game win-streak and had scored over 30 points in each of their victories. The Panthers showed up and had one of the most dominating defensive performance in team history, holding Colin Kapernick to 46 net passing yards, on their way to a season defining 10-9 victory. There was little time for celebration as the vaulted Patriots (coming off a bye) where next on the chopping block in a prime time game. Cam Newton went toe to toe with one of the 5 greatest QB’s in the history of the NFL and led an 83 yard drive to fire the game winning score with under a minute on the clock. It was a career defining moment for Newton, and the win erased any doubt that this Panthers team was as dangerous as anyone in the NFC. Now sitting at 8-3, and on a 7 game win streak, the NFL has taken notice of these Panthers and are going to have to deal with them come January.
Other than the Saints games, the panthers have a less than arduous schedule. One has to feel pretty confident the Panthers can take out everyone left on their schedule, the only exception being the two remaining Saints showdowns that will almost certainly decide who wins the NFC South. The lowly Falcons came into the dome, generally regarded as one of the roughest places to play, and gave the Saints a run for their money. The Panthers should be able to pressure Brees and his atrocious line into making mistakes, while the offense pounds the revamped Saints D. Worst case scenario the Panthers finish 11-5. Homerism aside, I honestly think this team can finish 13-3 and have a realistic shot at the number one seed in the NFC provided the saints can beat the Hawks. There is no doubt this team is special, just look at mike Mitchells post-game interview after the Dolphins win. We are fired up, we are hard-nosed, we fear no one, WE ARE THE PANTHERS!
Football outsiders is the premier place to find advanced statistics on the NFL and what they have to say about the 2013 Carolina Panthers is quite encouraging for Panthers fans. As of today the Panthers are ranked 3rd overall by Football Outsiders, trailing only the Broncos and Seahawks. What makes the so dangerous is their balance. The Broncos are rated 1st overall by Outsiders DVOA formula, but mainly due to their #1 ranked offense. Their defense is ranked a relatively mediocre 17th which usually doesn't bold well for the playoffs when cold weather makes explosive offenses far less effective. The 2nd ranked Seahawks are very similar to the Panthers with the 7th rated offense and 2nd rated defense, they are clearly a team built to win come playoff time. The Panthers are very comparable to Seattle as they have a balanced team with the 8th rated offense and 4th rated defense. Both the Seahawks and Panthers are teams that are built to win come January, and in my opinion they are the two teams most likely to meet in the NFC Championship. The numbers are unbiased and clearly point to Carolina being the only legit threat to Seattle to come out of the NFC.
Then there is Cam Newton, the much maligned QB who has turned into one of the most dangerous “game managers” in the entire NFL. In today’s NFL QB’s are the key to any team being a legit Superbowl threat. Teams like Houston and Cincinnati have been built similarly to the 2013 Panthers but with Andy Dalton and Matt Schaub behind center they never could make a run at winning it all. On the other hand, the Panthers 3rd year star has emerged as an MVP candidate and has shown he can go toe to toe with anyone. During the teams 7 game win streak Newton has been near perfect, completing over 64% of his passes with 10 TD’s to only 5 INT’s. On top of that he’s been one of the best QB’s in the entire league on 3rd down and is still one of the most dangerous runners when the play breaks down or the Panthers call for him to make a play with his legs. To put it bluntly, Cam Newton is playing like a Superbowl caliber QB and is still improving week to week. With a lockdown defense he can rely on Cam doesn't have to carry the team, but when the time comes he has shown time and again in recent weeks that he can take over a game if need be. So long as #1 is behind center no one wants to face this Panthers team come playoff time. In the words of Sam Mills, “KEEP POUNDING!”