Nov 18, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers: Are they poised to win the NFC South?


Ever since their last trip to the SuperBowl in 2003, the Carolina Panthers have only had two winning seasons since then which have been marred by a series of average to mediocre regular season efforts.  With the acquisition of Cam Newton, the Panthers appeared to have found the answer to their offensive woes.  Unfortunately, Newton was a one-man show and the Panthers unbalanced offensive attack proved to be ineffective against the majority of the NFL’s elite franchises.  However, this year the Panthers not only look more well rounded than they ever have before, Cam Newton has matured into a distinguished and well disciplined leader who could potentially lead this team to their first division title since 2008.

Although Cam Newton’s overall statistics aren’t necessarily as prolific as they have been in his last two seasons, he has shown drastic improvements in key areas that have been vital to the Panthers well earned victories. Most notably, Newton’s overall accuracy has improved monumentally as he has completed 63.2% of his passes so far this season (he only completed 57.7% of his passes last year).  On top of that, Newton’s ball security mishaps have all but dissipated as he has only fumbled the ball once this season (Newton was responsible for eight fumbles in the last two seasons).  While Newton’s prolific rushing statistics have decreased noticeably with only four rushing touchdowns on the season (he rushed for 22 touchdowns in his last two seasons), this is an optimistic indicator of Newton’s evolved decision-making capabilities on the field.

Of course, the lack of Newton’s offensive production on the ground is also an encouraging sign of the Panther’s new and improved rushing attack that produces 125.3 yards per game (10th in the NFL).  While veteran running back DeAngelo Williams has always been a consistent rushing threat, fullback Mike Tolbert has become the Panthers dual threat high-powered offensive blocker and high-octane rusher.  Thus far, Tolbert has already eclipsed his rushing yardage with 230 yards on the season (he had 183 rushing yards all of last season).  Along with that, Tolbert’s relentless physicality has made him a favorite rushing option near the red zone as he has already garnered four rushing touchdowns this season.  To be fair, the Panthers impressive rushing successes have been highly prolific thanks to a stout offensive line that provides these rushers with ample time to find a gaping hole in the opposing teams defensive front.

While the Panthers offense has been exceptional to say the least, their intimidating defense has been the star of the show throughout this season.  Not only are they sensational at stopping the pass as they only allow 84.5 rushing yards per game (3rd in the NFL), their defensive secondary is likewise just as stout and physical as they have held their opponents to 209.5 passing yards per game (5th in the NFL).  By far the Panthers most impressive defensive standout is last year’s defensive rookie of the year Luke Kuechly.  While Kuechly’s 87 tackles and three interceptions on the season are stunningly impressive, his ability to traverse the field from sideline to sideline to make critical tackles is a one of a kind attribute.  Simply put, Kuechly is an intelligent and athletically gifted linebacker who leads by example and is the heart and soul of this well organized and determined Panthers defense.

However, even with the Panthers uplifting triumphs, particularly in the last two weeks when they defeated both the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots, they still have yet to topple their dominant divisional rival the New Orleans Saints.  Unlike the Panthers, the Saints are known for their fast paced and highly successful passing attack thanks in part to veteran quarterback Drew Brees.  While the Saints may not have the rushing capabilities that the Panthers do, their outstanding passing attack more than makes up for it as they have been able to throw for 321.9 passing yards per game against the opposition (2nd in the NFL).  Ultimately, this inevitable match up will be determined by which revitalized defense can outplay the others offense.  While the Panthers have the edge in that regard statistically speaking, they’ll have their hands full with one of the best passers this league has ever seen.

When all is said and done, the Carolina Panthers are exactly where they want to be.  Between their impressive 7-3 record and Cam Newton’s newfound maturity and poise, the Panthers have become one of the most balanced and efficient teams in the league.  If this team can continue to be sensational on defense and their offense can keep on building of their impressive improvements, they will be more than capable of winning a NFC South division that is now surprisingly competitive.

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