Cleat Geeks

The Panther Post: Playoffs? Playoffs? Yep.

With their stunning comeback win in Seattle, the Carolina Panthers improved to 5-0 for only the second time in franchise history.  The first time, in 2003, ended with Carolina making a trip to Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston.  The Panthers lost that game to New England 32-29 on a late Adam Vinatieri field goal, but it remains in the discussion as one of the greatest Super Bowl’s ever played.  Given their perfect record, Carolina has the right to think this season has the makings of something special.  Here are five reasons why I think the Panthers can make a run to the Super Bowl, and five reasons they could still miss the playoffs entirely.

The Panthers will make a deep run in the playoffs if:

  1. cam-newton-panthers-qbCam Newton continues to play like an NFL MVP candidate.  Ignore the 55.4% completion percentage.  The guy has been money when it’s counted.  Look no further than the fourth quarter in Seattle last week.  Cam not only engineered two 80-yard touchdown drives after falling behind 23-14, he completed 12-of-15 passes for 162 yards in the fourth quarter alone.  By the way, that’s a passer rating of 133.9.  Simply put, take Newton off of this roster and there is no chance they are 5-0.  Most Outstanding Player?  No.  Most Valuable Player?  Absolutely.
  2. kawannShortThe defense continues it’s dominance.  Currently ranked #7 in the NFL despite the fact that Luke Keuchly had missed all but half of a game before Sunday.  DT Kawaan Short is also a name you need to know.  The former 2nd-round pick out of Purdue has been a stalwart on the defensive line, tying up blockers to allow Keuchly and LB Thomas Davis to run free and make tackles.  Short was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his performance in Seattle. CB Josh Norman is in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year based on his 4 interceptions (two pick-6’s) and the fact that teams have almost completely stopped trying to throw to his side of the field.  According to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks targeted Norman’s man only twice on Sunday.  That’s respect.  Or fear.  Or both.
  3. Greg OlsenGreg Olsen continues to be unstoppable.  No tight end not named ‘Gronkowski’ has made such an impact on his team’s performance than Olsen.  Despite the fact that he is the only viable threat in the Carolina passing game, all he does is produce.  Olsen leads the Panthers in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.  Cam Newton’s security blanket.  Heck, the entire offenses security blanket.
  4. Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula can continue to invent new game plans to mask the lack of talent at the wide receiver position. Shula has been under fire since he became offensive coordinator under Rivera.  Lack of imagination, boring, not using Cam Newton correctly, and on and on.  Suddenly, with no Kelvin Benjamin, and no other wide receivers that would scare any defenses in the NFL, Shula has produced imaginative and effective game plans that have an extensive mix of misdirection runs and passes.  And it’s working.  The Panthers have scored over 20 points in every game this season.  If this defense gets 20 points to work with week in and week out, they will be tough to beat.
  5. They avoid major injuries from this point on. This one holds true for every team that has Super Bowl aspirations, but it is probably the most important factor.  The Panthers cannot afford to lose any key players going forward, especially Cam Newton, but also along what is already a thin offensive line.  The offensive line has played extremely well to date, but does not have the depth to handle many setbacks on the injury front.

The Panthers could miss the playoffs entirely if:

  1.  They don’t avoid major injuries from this point on.  If the Panthers were to lose QB Cam Newton, TE Greg Olsen, C Ryan Kalil, LB Luke Keuchly, LB Thomas Davis, DT Kawaan Short, or CB Josh Norman to injury, it could derail their run.  These are the seven players that I would deem irreplaceable on the roster.  The depth is generally pretty good, but losing any of these seven could have extremely adverse consequences to any playoff hopes.luke-kuechly-panther
  2. They panic after a loss or two.  It’s bound to happen, but the key is to not turn a two-game skid into a four-game skid by changing who you are.  The 2003 Panthers started 5-0, got to 8-2 after 10 games, then lost three straight to fall to 8-5.  Nobody panicked, they regrouped, won the final three, and finished 11-5 with momentum.  If it comes to it, the 2015 Panthers may need to learn those same lessons.
  3. The entire NFC stays hot and Carolina goes 11-5 and does not get in the playoffs.  This happened most recently in 2008 when the Patriots went 11-5 and failed to get a wild-card.  But I don’t remember anyone actually feeling sorry for them.  A fluke to say the least and not likely to happen.
  4. I honestly can’t think of a fourth reason…move on to #5.
  5. See #1

I truly believe that only a devastating injury bug can derail the Panthers from a long playoff run.  Historically, teams that start 5-0 make the playoffs just over 91% of the time.  If Carolina gets to 6-0 this Sunday night vs. Philadelphia, the probability jumps to 94%.  Get to 7-0, and it’s a 100% lock.  This group does not have the look or feel of a team that can or will collapse.  They are playing and acting like a tight-knit football family.  A family that is set to do great things together.  There’s no good reason not to.

 

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