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Why the Panthers are the biggest sleeper in the NFC

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Christian McCaffrey became the third running back ever to record 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a single season

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers were once 5-3 last season, primed to reach the playoffs under former head coach Ron Rivera for the fifth time in eight years.

The league’s top all-purpose running back, Christian McCaffrey for the Carolina Panthers, kept the Panthers slim playoff hopes alive in 2019 and was putting together a case to be the first running back to win MVP since Adrian Peterson in 2012. The Panthers were 5-3 behind their backup quarterback, Kyle Allen, and playing at Lambeau Field, against the 7-2 Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers outdueled Kyle Allen, and the Panthers lost that tough road trip 24-16. It was a dogfight that came down to one play with :04 left on the game clock. McCaffrey ran the ball, and the game clock down to 0:00, but was inches away from reaching the end zone. Panthers lost by a few inches, and from that point on, everything downward spiraled into utter chaos.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers lost four games in a row after the Green Bay loss, which propelled coach Rivera’s exit from the team at the hands of the hedge fund billionare owner, David Tepper. Tepper, who purchased the team two seasons ago from Jerry Richardson, amid the NFL investigations into Jerry Richardson, fired “Riverboat Ron”. The head coach who brought his team to the Super Bowl in 2015, was out of Carolina.

Ron Rivera is now the head coach for the Washington Redskins and Cam Newton went to fill in the shoes for Tom Brady’s old club in New England.

  • Former Panthers linebacker and Defensive Player of The Year in 2013, Luke Kuechly announced retirement in January at the age of 29.

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Everybody is talking about the 6-time Super Bowl champion, Tom Brady and 5 time pro-bowler, Rob Gronkowski joining the Buccaneers squad.

If you take away the spotlight and out dated resume of those two players, Tampa Bay simply added a soon to be 43 year-old quarterback who was tied for 14th in passing touchdowns (24) last year and a tight end who had 682 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns, two years ago ( *didn’t play in 2019/retired for a year).

Meanwhile, a different NFC South team is quietly making more noise: Carolina Panthers

Panthers added a young quarterback named Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 last season, by filling in for the injured Drew Brees on the Saints. To complement the quarterback Bridgewater, who missed a couple of seasons from that gruesome broken leg and C-Mac (Christian McCaffrey), the Panthers signed the best receiver from the AFC East last season, former Jets wideout Robby Anderson.

This offense is just scratching the surface with these young playmakers, and they’re primed to blossom under new head coach, Matt Rhule. Rhule did wonders while being a head coach at Baylor and hopes to make a successful transition from college to the pros.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This new look Panthers team is primed to take the league by storm in 2020 and turn lots of heads around the NFL world. They have all the talent and personal to be a key contender come September.

Let’s breakdown what makes this Panthers team so special and why they’re playoff hopes are overlooked by most Pro Football Analysts.


One of the best football minds in the NFL: Panthers General Manager, Marty Hurney

NFL International Series-Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers general manager, Marty Hurney, was formerly the manager for the team from 2002 to 2012, but was fired after a 1-5 start to the season in 2012.

Marty re-signed to be the manager of the Panthers organization in February of 2018. Hurney has been to the Super Bowl in 2003, NFC championship in 2005, and he’s drafted some of the best NFL players in the whole NFL throughout the last decade.

Marty was fired in 2012, but the players drafted by him: Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly helped the Panthers reach another Super Bowl in 2015.

Hurney is not only responsible for drafting the most elite players of this decade, he’s responsible for drafting some of the best Panthers players in their franchise. Players like Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Kalil, Jonathan Stewart, Deangelo Williams, and Jordon Gross, were drafted by Marty Hurney. Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly are locks to be Hall of Famers. Former All-Pro right tackle, Jordon Gross, was inducted into the Panthers Hall of Fame in 2019.

Remember the free agent signing at quarterback, Jake Delhomme, who led the Panthers to a 2003 Super Bowl? Well, Hurney signed that free agent quarterback and hopes to do the same route with another quarterback free agent signing, Teddy Bridgewater.


Underrated defensive line

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers drafted DE/DT Derrick Brown out of Auburn with the 7th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. The Panthers are slowly putting together a defensive line unit similar to the elite San Francisco 49ers D-line, where many of their early draft picks in recent years have been used on the D-line.

Let’s take a look at the rising Panthers D-line unit:

*Pro Football Reference statistics

  • Defensive end, Brian Burns (selected 16th overall, 2019 NFL draft)

*7.5 sacks as a rookie last season

  • Defensive tackle, Derrick Brown (selected 7th overall, 2020 NFL draft)

*top 10 draft pick, potential defensive rookie of the year candidate

  • Defensive tackle, Kawann short ( 2nd round pick, 2013 NFL draft)

*2-time pro-bowler and 32.5 career sacks

  • Defensive end, Yetur Gross-Matos (2nd round pick, 2020 NFL draft)

2nd round rookie, career sacks were ranked 10th in Penn State history

The average age among these Panthers defensive lineman is 24.25 years old. The Falcons average age among their starting D-line is 27.25, while the Saints is 26.5 years old, and the Buccaneers is 29.25.

It’s clear that the Panthers defensive line has loads of potential and growth to flash throughout the 2020-2021 campaign.

The Carolina Panthers didn’t only put a keen focus on drafting defensive lineman in the 2019 and 2020 NFL draft. CBS Sports pointed out how the Panthers were the first team in the common draft era to draft all defensive players in a NFL draft.

By taking serious measures to address their defense, the Panthers should reap significant improvements on that side of the ball. Their most potent attack will come from the offensive side of the ball, and it will cause damage to many NFL defenses who can’t cover the Panthers weapons.


Elite potential at the receiver position

NFL: New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

New Panthers Wide Receiver, Robby Anderson, is one of eight NFL wide receivers with at least 50 catches, 750 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in the last three seasons, according to the Panthers Home.

The most impressive part of being in that special receiving category with 7 other NFL receivers, is that Anderson performed very well with poor quarterback play. A young Sam Darnold has been the starter for the last two years, and Anderson even had to play with the Jets backup quarterback in 6 games over the last two years, due to Darnold’s injury issues. Josh McCown was the starting quarterback before Darnold in 2016 for Robby Anderson, so it’s safe to say that Teddy Bridgewater will be an upgrade over any of these options.

Anderson is one of the league’s best deep threats and his 4.36 speed has shown in his production. Panthers Home showed how he has 11 career touchdowns of 30 yards or more, which is third most in the NFL since 2016.

Anderson will fit in very well with Panthers wide receiver, D.J. Moore who had 1,175 receiving yards in just his second season last year. D.J. Moore just turned 23 in April and he’s already one of the league’s young stars at the wide receiver position. Anderson will join his new counterpart, who can finally take away the added coverage away that he received in New York.

When you add in Christian McCaffrey, who’s the best receiving back in the NFL, the Panthers offense will be an aerial passing machine with all these play makers having more space than their used to.


NFL: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers are hidden in the shadow of the reigning NFC South champs, New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The hype particularly surrounding the other division rival, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has put a dent on the improvements seeing to be unfolded out of Carolina.

Let’s not forget that the Browns had similar Super Bowl hype to the Buccaneers in 2019 just because of a few off-season acquisitions, yet they dissolved to a 6-10 record in 2019. Meanwhile, the Ravens rose to the occasion in the Browns division and came out with a great season despite the predictions circulating around the Browns.

The Panthers have acquired talented players that have come through a lesser spotlight than the Buccaneers. The Panthers may have added more talented, yet underrated acquisitions, who could propel the Panthers of being in better terms down the road. The Panthers may very well be playing in the national spotlight under the special comeback story of Teddy Bridgewater, come January 4th.


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