Cam Newton has come roaring back this season, and suddenly many see the Carolina Panthers as a team poised to beat the red-hot New Orleans Saints for the NFC South --- and now as a dark horse Super Bowl contender.
The Panthers suffered quite the dropoff in 2016, following their 15-1 season and Super Bowl loss in the 2015 season by stumbling to a 6-10 record. But behind Newton's strong performance, the league's top-rated defense, and a top-notch running game, the Panthers have bounced back to a 7-3 record, just a half-game behind the New Orleans Saints heading into the weekend.
Cam Newton was particularly sharp in last week's win over the Miami Dolphins, throwing for 254 yards and four touchdowns to go with 95 yards rushing, earning him NFC offensive player of the week honors.
Newton said he thinks the team can still get better.
"We just want to keep it going," Newton said (via USA Today).
"It's not saying we've hit our pinnacle yet, and there's nothing saying we can't get better. That's the thing we've just got to be optimistic about."The team's performance has many pundits thinking about an NFC South win, and possibly even a Super Bowl berth. Sports Illustrated noted that many have overlooked the Panthers because of their tendency to win "ugly," relying on their defense instead of lighting up the scoreboard (a Week 2 win over the Buffalo Bills in a 9-3 game the perfect example). That has kept national attention on teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and streaking Saints, but Sports Illustrated Now host Robin Lundberg noted that Newton's play sets the Panthers apart.
"When he is clicking on all cylinders, the Panthers are definitely a Super Bowl team," he said.The Carolina Panthers could have a chance to seize the division in the coming weeks, with a matchup against the New Orleans Saints looming on December 3. But they will not have an easy schedule, with games against the 7-3 Minnesota Vikings and a season-ending tilt against the Atlanta Falcons in a game that will likely have big playoff implications.
But as long as Cam Newton and the team's defense can stay healthy, the Carolina Panthers will continue to be in a position to win the NFC South and may start to get more attention as Super Bowl contenders.
[Featured Image by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images]