The Panthers seem to almost have it all. They boasted the season's best win-loss record, highest scoring offense, and are the clear favourites to win Super Bowl 50. But what makes them so good? And where can they be beaten?
Nobody produced more turnovers in the regular season than the Panthers, as they snatched possession from their opponents 33 times. These included a league-leading 24 interceptions, plus nine recovered fumbles. Safety Kurt Coleman was the chief protagonist for Carolina with seven picks. To put this into context, even Denver's number one ranked defense only managed a total of 18 takeaways by comparison. Carolina also had a +20 turnover differential over 16 games, compared to Denver´s -4.
2) Scoring Points
Carolina scored an average 31.2 points per game this season, the best in the league. They had the joint-most rushing touchdowns and were only one score off the top of the table in terms of passing TDs. The Panthers were especially potent on the ground, finishing second in the league for rushing yards, while Cam Newton´s 10 rushing TDs were more than any other QB.
3) Fast starters
Less tangible this, but in the postseason showdowns with Seattle and Arizona we saw the importance of a strong start as Carolina had both games effectively won by halftime. In the regular season, the Panthers proved regular frontrunners , trailing at half time in just two out of 16 games.
1) Soft schedule
Carolina have been the Graeme Hick of this season's NFL - flat track bullies who've flattered while disposing of comparatively weak opposition. Their 15-1 regular season effort came against a string of losing teams, whose records amounted to a woeful -30. There'll be question marks over whether the Panthers can play to such a high standard against the NFL´s number one defense, especially on the road.
2) Passing offense
This will rile up quite a few people given that Cam Newton will be many people´s season MVP. But while Newton offers a strong rushing threat, there is no getting around his pass-completion rate of just 59.8. Worringly, that´s a full 10% less than Washington´s Kirk Cousins. Carolina's QB completed the exact same percentage of passes as Super Bowl opponent Peyton Manning during the regular season. But while Manning was much maligned for his efforts, Newton´s reputation somehow escaped in tact. Greg Olsen aside, Carolina´s receiver set also looks worryingly short of quality and depth.
3) Vulnerable Secondary
While Carolina have been oustanding at linebacker, they´ve looked less assured in the deep. When it came to conceding passes of 20+ yards, they ranked in the bottom half of the league. This possible Achilles heel was exposed by Seattle in the divisional game, when they scored 24 second half points to almost pull-off a miraculous comeback win.