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NFL AM: Are the Carolina Panthers For Real?

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Contender Or Pretender: Carolina Panthers

It is difficult to not be impressed by the Carolina Panthers through the first six weeks. Despite missing some key starters, the Panthers have managed to remain undefeated. On Sunday, the Panther came back from a two-score deficit with four minutes to go as they bested the reigning NFC champions.

“This was one of the bigger victories we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said.

There is no doubt that this win proved that the Panthers are a team that must be reckoned with this season; however, are they a legitimate Super-Bowl contender at this point and time?

The Panthers possess a stellar defense on the back of a very good defensive line and star linebacker Luke Kuechly. Furthermore, cornerback Josh Norman has led the Panthers secondary to being one of the most improved units in the NFL.

On offense, the Panthers have Cam Newton, who is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season as the Panthers signal caller. The biggest surprise for the Panthers is how improved their offensive line has been. Coming into the season, the Panthers were thought to have a below-average front line; however, they have been good enough to worthy top-10 consideration through the first six weeks.

Despite all these positives, the Panthers are pretenders for this particular season because of their lack of weapons on the outside. Sure, they have tight end Greg Olson, but they lack the weapons necessary to be a true Super-Bowl threat for at least this year.

If the Panthers can get Kelvin Benjamin back and acquire another threat beside him this offseason, the Panthers will definitely be a Super-Bowl contender next season.

The New Best Defense In The NFL

For the last few years, the Seattle Seahawks have easily had the best defense in the NFL; however, a few late-game collapses have opened the door for a new team to assume that distinction. Through the first six weeks, the Denver Broncos have been the best defense by leaps and bounds.

It is really incredible to look at the embarrassment of riches that the Broncos possess on defense. Chris Harris Jr. is the best cornerback in the NFL that no one gives any credit. Von Miller is one of the best pass-rushers and he is book ended with another star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware. Brandon Marshall is one of the best young inside linebackers in the NFL. Malik Jackson is one of the most versatile defensive linemen in football. Aqib Talib is the best “No. 2” cornerback in the NFL and Shaquil Barrett has been a fantastic rookie coming off the bench to go along with a host of other impact defenders who would gain more notoriety on less talent-laden defenses.

The Broncos have been carried by their defense through the first six games due to the offense’s struggles on the back of quarterback Peyton Manning. Marshall stated it best when he said, “When it looks all lost, we find a way.”

The Broncos defense always does seem to find a way as they have dominated their six opponents this year. They only allow 17 points per game and are in the top-five in basically every meaningful defensive statistic.

If defense wins championships, the Broncos should get their fingers sized for a Super-Bowl ring.

The NFC Least

This is not your father’s NFC East. The division that once dominated the NFL appears to be in dire straights at this moment.

The New York Giants put together one of the most pitiful performances of the NFL season as they were bested by the division rival Philadelphia Eagles 27-7 on Monday night. Don’t think that final score means the Eagles looked great because they looked about as bad as a team can when they win by 20 points. The Washington Redskins are anemic on offense and one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys are without their star quarterback until the middle of November.

Each team has a crippling defect that should keep them from being a real contender in the playoffs. The only team that has any shot is the Cowboys when Tony Romo comes back, but they may be out of the playoff race when Romo returns if they keep going at the pace they’re at these past couple weeks.

Many thought the Eagles could be a title contender, but head coach Chip Kelly’s poor personnel decisions have left them hamstrung, especially on offense. Sam Bradford certainly isn’t the quarterback to get them over the hump and we all know Mark Sanchez isn’t either. All this proves is, unlike in college, personnel trumps scheme in the NFL and it is a concept that Kelly needs to understand.

The New York Giants were leading the division going into Monday night, but they’re just not talented enough to be a team that strikes fear into opposing teams. They have some young pieces that should give fans optimism, but Eli Manning is on the downside of his career and the defense just doesn’t have the talent to be consistently good week in and week out.

The Redskins are, well, the Redskins and they don’t appear to have a shot of contending anytime soon. New general manager Scott McCloughan should give some fans hope, but they are still a few rebuilding years away from becoming a competitive team.

The NFC East is the worst division in the NFC this season and if these teams don’t change how they make personnel decisions, it may remain that way for years to come.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com