Carolina Panthers Prove They're Contenders with Big Win over Patriots

Steven Korn@@stevo_kornContributor IIINovember 19, 2013

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 18:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after running for a first down against the New England Patriots during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 18, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers are on an improbable run to the playoffs. The team with the toughest schedule in the league coming into the year is now sitting at 7-3 coming off their 24-20 victory against the New England Patriots. The Panthers’ win last night is just further proof that they are a true contender coming out of the NFC.

The Panthers didn’t have much respect from analysts across the country heading into the season, starting the season No. 21 in ESPN’s Power Rankings. Carolina, however, just rattled off its sixth straight win.

The Panthers now sit a game behind New Orleans (8-2) in the NFC South, and with two games still remaining against the Saints, the division is very much up for grabs. The Panthers’ 7-3 record also has them a game ahead of San Francisco, Arizona and Chicago for the fifth seed in the playoffs.

With the huge win over New England on Monday night, people are no longer asking if the Panthers can make the playoffs, but if they can make a run while in the playoffs.

Some people may still not be sold on Carolina, but there is no denying how good this team is, and their schedule shows it. Carolina started the season with what many people thought would be a blowout but shocked many by only falling 12-7 to the Seattle Seahawks. Only allowing Seattle to 12 points was no fluke, though. Carolina’s dominant defense has only allowed one opponent to score more than 20 points against them.

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The Panthers defense held New England, who scored 55 in their last game, to just 20 points last night. They had six hits on Brady and sacked him twice. Led by Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly’s combined 29 tackles, the Panthers defense showed just how scary they can be.

Carolina possesses the fifth-ranked passing defense and the third-ranked rushing defense so far this season. While their defense is the heart and soul of their team, it is going to be up to the offense to see if this team will make a run.

Cam Newton might not be putting up the huge numbers that have people saying he’s the next great quarterback, but the fact of the matter is that he’s playing well. The dual-threat quarterback has been able to attack defenses on the ground while still completing 63-percent of his passes. 

On Monday night, Newton completed 19-of-28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He was also the leading rusher for the game by gaining 62 yards on just seven carries. Newton’s performance showed poise, confidence and a ton of flair.

Newton’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with one minute to go gave the Panthers the lead, and after a controversial finish, the Panthers escaped with the victory.

Carolina is no joke; they have won back-to-back games against playoff teams in New England and San Francisco and have been one of the hottest teams in the league. The biggest tests for this team will come in Week 14 and Week 16, when the Panthers will be fighting for the division title against the Saints.

The Super Bowl has proven to be all about who is hot come playoff time, and if the Panthers can keep on rolling like they are now, look for them to make a run when it matters most.