In the history of the NFL only nine teams have started out a season (13-0). Nine. Ever.
So why is it that one day after Carolina put the hurt on their division rival Falcons, 38-0, we’re still wondering if Cam Newton and company can get it done when it “really counts”?
Why are we having such a hard time doling out proper respect for a team that’s been literally unbeatable in a league resolutely designed for parity?
If it were the Patriots, Seahawks, Packers or Broncos knocking at the door of a perfect season the media would be going bonkers over it. Why is it that we just don’t trust this Panthers squad despite the fact that they just keep on winning?
Honestly, I don’t know.
But I do have a few theories.
I believe it all starts with preseason hype. For as much as we all understand that guessing the winners in the NFL is just barely more predictable than a roulette table, pundits tend to pick a handful of preseason favorites and stick to their guns regardless of what’s happening on the field.
In most early days Power Rankings the Panthers were slotted smack-dab in the center, right around #15 – despite their record, our intuition makes it hard for us to believe that they are truly good enough to have leapfrogged the entire class of the league.
Second, the NFC South has been a bottom of the barrel division for several years now. It was just one year ago that Carolina eked into the postseason with a losing record at (7-8-1). It’s hard not to wonder if strength of schedule has played a role in the Panthers’ success.
Third, they’re lacking in big name stars. Apart from Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly there’s not another player on the team that “sells jerseys.”
Jonathan Stewart is ranked 7th in the league with 989 yards but few would put him in the same category as Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte or Eddie Lacy – three players he’s outplaying by a mile.
And finally, despite Cam Newton’s impressive passing stat line of 28 TDs to 10 INTs, 3,062 yards and 96.9 RTG, we still tend to see him as a “running” quarterback. And yes, he runs…he’s rushed for 480 yards and 7 touchdowns – but he’s far less reliant on the run than he used to be.
But Ron Rivera’s club revels in their role as undefeated underdog. It’s unfortunate that we’ll only truly believe if and when Carolina hoists the Lombardi.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 14, 2015
Tasty Tidbits from Week 14
The Seahawks are rolling once again and Russell Wilson is playing better than any other quarterback in the league. #3 has thrown three or more touchdowns in four straight games with two 5-TD performances across that stretch.
Wilson is now ranked #1 in the NFL in QB Rating at 110.0, three points better than Carson Palmer and four points higher than Andy Dalton.
Speaking of Dalton, the Bengals’ leader suffered an incredibly unfortunate injury on Sunday versus the Steelers, fracturing the thumb on his throwing hand.
Originally he appeared to be done for the season, but new reports have surfaced stating that surgery won’t be required and that he could be back in action for the playoffs.
— NFL (@NFL) December 14, 2015
Let’s all pray for the ‘Red Rocket’, even if you don’t believe in God.
For as sexy as the AJ McCarron story sounds on paper, Cincy needs to get Dalton back if they are to have any hope of making a Super Bowl run.
Speaking of runs, the Jets have rattled off three straight and the Chiefs have now made it seven. With Pittsburgh winning back-to-back games, three teams are knotted at (8-5) for two AFC Wild Card slots.
With the Jets drawing the lackluster Cowboys in week 15 and Kansas City battling the QB-less Ravens, the Steelers will be under big-time pressure to knock off the visiting Broncos at home.
Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Giants all won this week, pushing all three clubs to a near-respectable (6-7). The NFC East remains as the most exciting divisional race in the league – if you call watching losing teams beating the odds exciting.
Next week these clubs face the Bills, Cardinals and Panthers respectively – making it very possible we’ll still be looking at a three-way tie seven days from now.
Offensive Player of the Week
Eli Manning was near-perfect this week, completing 27 of 31 passes (87% completion rate) for 337 yards, 4 TDs, a 151.5 passer rating and most importantly a 31-24 win over the Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
The game was Eli’s 180th consecutive start, the longest such streak in the NFL.
Eli Manning set a franchise record with 87% Comp pct as he picked apart the Dolphins: 27-31, 337 Pass yds, 4 TD pic.twitter.com/0lTOlzaMMs
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 15, 2015
Defensive Player of the Week
Khalil Mack is truly a rising star and his play on Sunday rattled Denver’s offense so much that the Broncos weren’t able to score a single touchdown all afternoon long.
— NFL (@NFL) December 14, 2015
Team on the Rise
Hardly a team ‘on the rise’, it’s worth mentioning that the Arizona Cardinals have won seven games straight, tied for the second-longest win streak in the league behind the undefeated Panthers.
The Cards are the only team ranked in the top five in both offense and defense, making them perhaps the most balanced team at the top of the NFC.
Team on the Decline
The Buffalo Bills.
One year after going (9-7) and barely missing the playoffs it looks like the Bills are back to their old ways of folding late when it matters most.
Rex Ryan’s boys outgained the Eagles in total yards but lost in the mental game with a whopping 15 total penalties.
After the game LeSean McCoy threw a temper tantrum by refusing to talk to the media.
Buffalo will now need to win out and get some help to have any shot whatsoever at a Wild Card.
— ESPN (@espn) December 14, 2015
Just in Case You Missed It
· Brock Osweiler played ho-hum football in a 12-15 loss to the Raiders as he took 5 sacks and had zero touchdowns on 51 passes. It’s just one game but he certainly opened the window a wee bit on the QB controversy brewing in Denver.
· New England got back to winning with a 27-6 statement over the Texans. The Patriots defense held Houston to just 189 total net yards.
· Thomas Rawls, the undrafted rookie RB who appeared to be the perfect replacement for ‘Beast Mode’ in Seattle broke his ankle and is out for the season.
Games to Look Forward to in Week 15
Texans at Colts –Both Houston and Indianapolis lost this week, leaving the door open for a winner-take-all battle for the lead in the AFC South. Not only will the victor take a one-game league in the division, they’ll get back to .500, whoopty-doo!
Packers at Raiders –Oakland might just be playing the spoiler at this point but they’d love to knock off another playoff contender two weeks in a row. Green Bay can’t afford to lose winnable games with the Vikings still nipping at their heels.
Broncos at Steelers –Pittsburgh is scoring at will over the past few weeks but they’ll face a real test against the Broncos’ #1 defense.
Cardinals at Eagles –Philly really needs this win and the Cardinals don’t. It could be a good one but Arizona could also blow out an inferior team.