When we first published our articles on the undefeated teams of 2015, we weren’t entirely sure who would make it and who wouldn’t. It seemed likeliest that the New England Patriots might continue with an undefeated season, but that didn’t pan out. Instead, the 2015 Carolina Panthers are the undefeated team of the season. They are currently 14-0 with two games to go, and it looks like they have a real shot at making history this season if they can continue on their winning streak without interruption. In order to assess whether or not they’ll make it, however, we have to look back over the season so far and see how they have performed and how they might keep up the trend.
Looking Back at the Preseason
The preseason started with three very close games, the first two of which were victories for Carolina. The first was a 25-24 win over the Buffalo Bills. It may have been a narrow victory, but this was a game in which we learned that the 2015 Carolina Panthers had an offensive line unlike any other. The big standout in this game was LT Michael Oher, who managed to hold back his opposition while allowing the Panthers to score big. If it weren’t for him, QB Cam Newton may have started off this season with a loss.
Newton didn’t do so hot in the second preseason game, as the Panthers struggled to a 31-30 win against the Miami Dolphins. In fact, one bad call by Miami coach Joe Philbin might have made all the difference. He challenged a play that turned out to work in the Panthers’ favor, giving them the ball when Miami might have otherwise kept it. Things still didn’t look too hot for the 2015 Carolina Panthers, but they managed to rack up another win on the preseason due to Philbin’s poor decision.
The third game of the preseason was a loss, and it’s the only one that the 2015 Carolina Panthers have experienced. Playing the New England Patriots, they fell 16-17. New England’s win didn’t surprise too many people—in fact, more people are probably surprised that the Panthers remain undefeated while the Pats have lost twice—but the Panthers actually started hitting a stronger defensive stride in this game. And considering that Carolina only managed to get two field goals in the first half, the fact that they finished as closely as they did was pretty impressive. The game actually said more for the Pats’ run defense than anything, but it was still clear that the 2015 Carolina Panthers were on the rise. It’s weird to say that following a loss, but anyone reading the tea leaves might have still been able to catch a glimpse of a bright future for the team.
That bright future was even more apparent when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-6 in their final game of the preseason. In a way, it was nothing new. When the two teams met for their preseason finale back in 2014, the Panthers had taken home a 10-0 shutout. And with the Steelers offering a worse defense and putting absolutely none of their starters on the field, a win in this case was more or less business as usual for Carolina. Still, the margin was a great one and it was clear that they had been making some offensive improvements going into the regular season. As the regular season began, these improvements would continue.
Assessing the Regular Season
As noted above, it was the Panthers defense that really began to shine in their loss against the Patriots. And during their 20-9 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in their series opener, this was again the case. Things could have taken a nasty turn after LB Luke Kuechly’s concussion, but the Jags aren’t exactly a team to be feared. The Panthers were fine in this one. Still, he missed more than a month after that injury. Carolina was going to need to keep it together if they were going to do without him.
The Houston Texans were one of the few teams we expected to hold their own defensively. The fact that they’re currently topping the AFC South isn’t much of a surprise, and we expected great things from them when the season first started. Thanks to the 2015 Carolina Panthers, we learned that the Texans weren’t all they were cracked up to be this year. We finally got to appreciate Carolina for their offense more than their defense, as they broke through players like DE J.J. Watt to get the ball to the end zone and walk away with a 24-17 win.
Carolina got a little shaky in Week 3, with their first single-possession win of the regular season. Beating the New Orleans Saints 27-22, they seemed to show a few weaknesses against one of the weaker teams of the year. This was also a New Orleans team that was forced to play without injured QB Drew Brees, allowing Luke McCown to step in as his replacement. So it wasn’t surprising for Carolina to win, but they arguably should have won by a lot more.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the 2015 Carolina Panthers in a 37-23 loss that gave Carolina a five-win streak in the current rivalry between the two teams (between their 30 meetings since 1995, Carolina is currently 19-11). A great deal of the Panthers’ success in this outing can be attributed to CB Josh Norman, who led the defense with two interceptions, one resulting in a touchdown and the second helping to set up another. The team also forced a fumble, and ultimately caused five turnovers over the course of the game. Yet again, this was a game in which the 2015 Carolina Panthers taught us that a good offense is a strong defense. And with players like Norman, they made that lesson about as a literal as possible.
After their bye week, the Panthers returned in Week 6 for a 27-23 win against the Seattle Seahawks. This was another game in which the Panthers might have lost if they were facing a stronger team. The Seahawks were surprisingly weak toward the start of the season, and a stronger team might have upset Carolina’s winning streak. The Panthers really didn’t have it in the bag until the fourth quarter, at which point things turned around in a major way. This is largely due to the efforts of Cam Newton, although TE Greg Olsen can be credited with catching the pass that ultimately won them the game.
Week 7 resulted in a 27-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the stronger teams the Panthers had faced in the regular season up to that point. At this point in the season, the Panthers were setting a franchise record with ten straight regular season wins including the previous year. It was shortly after this win that we initially wrote our article on the five teams that were unbeaten up to this point. We weren’t entirely certain that Carolina had the best shot out of all of them, but the count would slowly trickle down in the remaining weeks as Carolina remained undefeated.
The 2015 Carolina Panthers nearly had their streak broken in Week 8, but they just barely managed a 29-26 week against the Indianapolis Colts in a night of suspense that took them into overtime. It all came down to a 52-yard field goal by PK Graham Gano, but this wouldn’t have been necessary if Carolina’s defense hadn’t suffered some inconsistencies. Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck was largely responsible for the game’s overtime, as he managed to lead his team to score 17 points in the last few minutes of regulation. It was an amazing push by the Colts, but the Panthers still managed to come out on top.
The Green Bay Packers had been anticipated as one of the better teams this season, and we had initially thought they might have a chance at toppling the 2015 Carolina Panthers in Week 9. No such luck for Green Bay, as the Panthers rose to victory in a 37-29 win that laid to rest some concerns that they were beginning to falter. QB Aaron Rodgers did manage a slight rally, but it wasn’t nearly enough to bring them into the lead. The Panthers nailed this one without much worry in the end, and their defense gained back some of the credibility they had lost in the week before.
In a 27-10 win over the Tennessee Titans, Carolina’s defense looked better than ever. To be fair, they weren’t exactly facing one of the better teams in the league. Still, Newton completed 11 passes in a row—something he had never accomplished before—and Carolina once again showed that they can offer just as much in terms of offense as they can in terms of defense.
The Panthers’ 44-16 win over the Washington Redskins wasn’t much to write home about. The Redskins are one of the weakest teams in the NFL at the moment, and they weren’t any better a month ago. Newton set another personal record with a total of five touchdown passes, and continued along what will probably end up being the best season of his career. This obviously wasn’t going to be the game that ended Carolina’s winning streak, but it was still much better for Newton than anyone might have anticipated.
In our Thanksgiving preview, we had anticipated that the Dallas Cowboys might be the ones to finally break the 2015 Carolina Panthers. Unfortunately for Dallas, QB Tony Romo was injured yet again, putting him out for the rest of the season. Carolina won 33-14, refusing to be held back by their ridiculously tacky Color Rush uniforms. This was a game that even Vegas expected the Panthers to lose, and they might have done so if not for Romo’s injury. Bad luck for Dallas, but great news for the Carolina Panthers as they went 11-0 in Week 12.
Week 13 was a re-match between the Panthers and the Saints, and things were a lot closer this time. The Panthers managed to win 41-38, with Newton scoring another five touchdown passes. The fourth quarter was by far the most riveting, after New Orleans dominated the first quarter but saw Carolina wipe the floor with them over the next two. The Saints pulled ahead twice in the last quarter, but the Panthers managed to come out on top in the end. The 2015 Carolina Panthers remained undefeated, but this certainly wasn’t the easiest win of the season.
The easiest win of the season came in their 38-0 shutout against the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta WR Roddy White has admitted that Carolina has a strong defense, although he doesn’t believe that CB Josh Norman is the backbone of it. He credits Norman’s success to the support of players like Kuechly. Then again, it’s possible that this is largely sour grapes. But the Falcons are actually next on the schedule, before the Panthers finish their season against the Buccaneers. These should be easy games, and it should be entirely possible for the 2015 Carolina Panthers to finish the regular season 16-0. At the same time, they’ll be facing two teams who will want to make up for some embarrassing losses. Tensions are going to be high in these outings.
It may not be likely for the Panthers to be toppled in these last two games, but it is possible. Their narrow 38-35 win against the New York Giants saw their defense faltering a bit, although some of the credit for their struggles might go to the referees. Specifically, their failure to eject Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr. Beckham and Norman got into it several times, and Beckham was called on three occasions for unsportsmanlike conduct. He’s received a one-game suspension, but he really shouldn’t have been in the game as long as he was. But Beckham wasn’t the only reason the Panthers didn’t do as well as they should have. This was a tough game, and they didn’t have the focus they usually have. Even if they win their next two games against easy opponents, things might look iffy as they advance to the playoffs.
Looking Forward to the Playoffs
The 2015 Carolina Panthers are definitely headed to the playoffs this year. But can they make it through and win Super Bowl 50 to accomplish a perfect season? With no losses this year except for one in the preseason, it would be a heck of an accomplishment for the franchise. And no matter what happens, they should pat themselves on the back for even managing to make it this far. But it’s not over yet, and they still have some hurdles to overcome if they want to keep things up.
Coach Ron Rivera is trying to net home field advantage for the NFC playoffs with a win against the Falcons in their upcoming game, so he won’t be resting his key players. It might often seem like a desirable move, as they are facing an easy opponent with certain chances of advancing to the postseason. But Rivera is looking toward the future right now, and he understands that the season isn’t over just because the Panthers have done well.
Remember that Rivera played LB for the 1985 Chicago Bears when they went 15-1. He already knows what it feels like to play on the greatest team in NFL history. But this season, he has a shot at coaching the greatest team in NFL history. Newton has already set major records. While the win against the Giants was far from perfect, Newton threw five touchdowns and more than 300 yards while rushing for 100. Guess how many other quarterbacks have done that.
The 2015 Carolina Panthers might not go undefeated, but they don’t need to worry about having a great season. This is one for the record books. Between Newton’s prowess and Rivera’s drive, they have a chance to make some real magic happen here. And there’s a strong chance they’ll do it. The playoffs will challenge them, but they just might make it to the Super Bowl. And even if they lose the Super Bowl, going undefeated for the regular season and most of the postseason will still etch them into the memories of football fans everywhere. They just need to make it a few more games.
Our best bet? They just might do it. Be sure to keep watching, because Newton and Rivera aren’t about to let this team crumble at the end of a record-breaking season like this one.