NFL Football – Don’t Forget About The Carolina Panthers
Just as quickly as we started talking about the Carolina Panthers about one-third of the way through the 2017 NFL season, when they were sporting a 4-1 record after the first full weekend of October, that’s how quickly we stopped talking about them after they dropped their next two games. The first one was something of a thriller, in a 28-23 loss to the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles, and the other was something of a snoozer, in a 17-3 loss to the Chicago Bears (in a game that featured exactly zero offensive touchdowns by either team).
But after dropping those two games, the Panthers have won their last two games, and now find themselves only a half-game back of the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South lead, entering Week 10 of the season. They’re certainly not winning with any style points; Carolina has scored no more than two touchdowns in any game over the past month or so, and even with their 5-3 record, their offense has scored only nine more points than their defense has allowed this year.
Instead, they’ve gone back to the formula that worked so well for them in years past, including as recently as 2015: playing elite defense, and giving the offense enough leeway to do just enough to win the game. Coming into Week 10, Carolina is ranked 5th in the NFL in total yards allowed per game, 4th in the NFL in points allowed per game, and #1 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. Over their last four games, they’ve allowed a total of four offensive touchdowns. The three rushing touchdowns they’ve allowed all year is tied for the fewest in the NFL, and their 29 sacks of opposing quarterbacks to date is second best in the NFL, only behind the Jacksonville Jaguars.
On offense, Cam Newton may never recapture his MVP form of 2015, but it doesn’t matter. For one, with the defense he has behind him, he knows that he won’t have to singularly account for 45 offensive touchdowns on his own. And more importantly, he’s got a supporting cast built on a couple of young, promising players that are really picking up the slack. Rookie Christian McCaffrey, the team’s first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, is currently on pace to catch the most passes by a rookie running back in NFL history. If he keeps up his current pace, he’ll have 96 receptions at the end of the year, shattering the 88 passes that Reggie Bush caught in 2006. Third year wide receiver Devin Funchess is well on his way to career-best marks in receiving yards and touchdowns, and with the departure of fellow wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, he’s now a sizable main target for New to throw the ball.
Over their remaining seven games of the season, Carolina only has two games against teams with a winning record as of right now. They’re still very much a contender for the division crown, but even if they don’t win the NFC South, they look like a favorite for one of the two Wild Card spots in the NFC.