Carolina Panthers Beat Atlanta Falcons, First Place in NFC South Within Reach

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Carolina Panthers Beat Atlanta Falcons, First Place in NFC South Within Reach
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Cam Newton used his legs and his arm to lead the Carolina Panthers to a 34-10 win over the visiting Atlanta Falcons.

No NFL team is ever statistically out of playoff contention after the first month of the season. That's why the Carolina Panthers did not turn in their helmets and hang up their cleats after their Week 5 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals dropped the team to 1-3.

The Panthers have since managed to regroup following their loss in the desert and have now won each of their last four contests, including consecutive divisional wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Smith and the Carolina Panthers have rebounded from a 1-3 start to win their last four games.

Four weeks after that pivotal loss and at the midway point of the 2013 NFL season, the Panthers are 5-3, solidly in Wild Card contention and within a game of the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South.

Division Dominance

Carolina cruised by the winless Bucs in Week 8, 31-13, and they trounced the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9, 34-10, by forcing four turnovers and outscoring their I-85 rivals 20-0 in the second half.

The Panthers have scored at least 30 points in each of their five wins this season and their average margin of victory is 24 points.  

In other words, the Carolina Panthers are blowing teams out.

Carolina will play the first-place New Orleans Saints twice in December. If they can at least split their next four contests against the 49ers, Patriots, Dolphins and Bucs, they will have a chance to play for the NFC South title.

New Orleans has lost two of its last three games with the Cowboys, 49ers, Falcons and Seahawks next up on their schedule.

Winning When it Matters

How many of the next four games will Carolina win vs San Francisco (away), New England (home), Miami (road) and Tampa Bay (home)?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Carolina last had a four-game winning streak in December of 2012 after already being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but this year's winning streak is different because it is coming when it matters.

Carolina's current winning streak has the Panthers tied for the second NFC Wild Card spot with the Detroit Lions. Both teams sport identical 5-3 records.

Only four weeks into the season, many Panthers fans and pundits were calling for Ron Rivera's head and questioning whether Cam Newton was the franchise quarterback they thought the team drafted No. 1 overall in 2011.

Now the Panthers have a winning record for the first time in five seasons and they are one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

It is funny how quickly things can change.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmygrappone and @cltsportshub

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