The first drive set the tone on Sunday.
After the Green Bay Packers had to punt on the opening drive, the Panthers took little time to score. Riding the back of rookie tailback Christian McCaffrey, the Charlotte team took an important 7-0 lead. McCaffrey scored the opening touchdown and combined for 60 yards on the drive that set the tone for the 31-24 victory.
In the first 11 games, the Panthers failed to score on the opening drive, but have now done it in three straight games.
It is a very different Panthers squad then the 6-10 embarrassment seen last season. The team is more similar to the 2015 season when MVP Cam Newton brought the Panthers to the edge of the franchise’s first Super Bowl trophy.
McCaffrey has been the difference for the offense, and since Week 5 McCaffrey has scored seven total touchdowns. He has provided a very good bailout option for Newton, something the charismatic quarterback lacked. And after a shaky start to the season, incumbent starter Jonathan Stewart has gained momentum and looked five years younger.
Defensively, the Panthers have one of the best pass rushes in the league led by Julius Peppers and Mario Addison, both of whom rank top-ten in the league with ten sacks each. First-year defensive coordinator Steve Wilks is liberal in bringing the blitz and it has benefited the Panthers inconsistent secondary.
With the Panthers looking like one of the hottest teams in the NFL, how far can they go in the playoffs?
With wins over the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, and Detroit Falcons the Panthers boast one of the most impressive resumes in the NFL. A first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Rams looks likely and Jared Goff will have fits with the Panthers smothering pass rush. With Carson Wentz out for the season, the NFC frontrunner is the New Orleans Saints.
The Panthers have lost twice to the Saints this year, but if the two squads meet in the postseason, the Panthers will be motivated for some revenge.
If all goes as planned for the blue and black, the team will be sitting pretty in Minnesota come February.
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