Since 1972, the Miami Dolphins have popped many bottles of champagne. This team is still the only one to run through a regular season and a postseason without a single defeat, finishing 17-0 with a victory in Super Bowl VII. Since that season, several teams have given the Dolphins’ historic mark a serious scare. The 2007 New England Patriots, most notably, went unbeaten through the regular season and made it all the way to the Super Bowl, only to dramatically lose to the New York Giants.
This season, another team has a chance to match the Patriots’ 16-0 mark and take the record one step further by finishing the task with a championship. The Carolina Panthers enter the final two weeks of the regular season unscathed, although very tested. They’ve won in a dominating fashion (see their first contest against the Atlanta Falcons) and withstood serious tests (see this past weekend against the Giants).
At this point, the question for Carolina isn’t about whether or not the team will go undefeated, but instead it’s become who can stop them? Or, better yet, who will? Let’s analyze the Panthers’ chances of not only winning their final two regular season games, but running through the playoffs and winning Super Bowl 50 as well.
Regular season finish
To finish the regular season, the Panthers will first go on the road to play their division rival Falcons this upcoming weekend, a team that Carolina crushed only two short weeks ago. Matt Ryan and company are on the brink of an elimination from postseason contention, so they need to find a way to knock the Panthers off. However, with how poorly Atlanta played in that first meeting (and really with how poorly they’ve played since beginning the season 5-0), it’s tough to see them pulling off a major upset.
In the season finale, Carolina will host another divisional foe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has already been eliminated from postseason contention, so all they have to play for is pride at this point. If the Panthers make it to 15-0, though, entering this contest, the Buccaneers would love nothing more than to halt the Panthers’ pursuit of perfection. Way back in Week 4, during the teams’ first meeting, Carolina secured a two-touchdown victory.
Neither of these matchups (on paper) should give Carolina fits, but divisional games can always lead to some pretty crazy outcomes. Something else to consider is whether or not the Panthers want to deal with the pressure of being undefeated heading into the playoffs. Everybody will expect and wait for them to run the table all the way through February, which could affect how a team plays.
If they win this weekend, they will have the home-field advantage wrapped up throughout the NFC playoffs. That could give them the incentive to rest players in the season finale, although that would be unlikely since they are chasing history and will have a first-round bye in the postseason. Regardless of what happens, if the Panthers want an unbeaten regular season, it’s theirs for the taking.
Potential playoff matchups
If the Panthers are 16-0 heading into the postseason, they will be the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. After a first-round bye, their potential divisional-round matchups would include the winner of the NFC East (currently the Washington Redskins) as well as the Seattle Seahawks (most likely) or the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs if they win (currently the Minnesota Vikings). Of those potential contests, a rematch against the Seahawks obviously stands out.
Russell Wilson has elevated Seattle’s play to a Super Bowl level once again, after a slow start to the season, which included a loss to the Panthers in Week 6. The two teams also met in last season’s postseason, with the Seahawks winning in the divisional round (the last time Carolina lost a game). So the rivalry between the two has been brewing for quite some time. Should the Panthers survive their divisional-round opponent, they will earn the NFC Championship game. That game could match them with various teams, but for the sake of conversation, let’s pit them against the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals.
If anybody can match the power of Carolina, it’s Arizona. The Cardinals could finish the season 14-2 with maybe the most balanced team in the NFL. Carson Palmer has been spectacular at quarterback and the Cardinals defense has been one of the top units in the league. It’d be interesting to see the point spread in this one. This would be the Panthers’ toughest possible opponent in the conference championship, serving as a major roadblock between them and a Super Bowl trip.
What about the Super Bowl?
If Carolina survives the NFC playoffs (no easy task), who could beat them on the AFC side in the Super Bowl? It’s tough to judge them against the top AFC contenders because they played in the AFC South this season — the worst division in the league. Obviously, the New England Patriots are a tough contest for any team.
The Super Bowl would be a major challenge for the Panthers. Other contenders include the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and you still have to throw the Denver Broncos into the mix because their defense — until this past weekend — has been so good. In reality though, Carolina has performed better than all of these teams and would be a solid favorite against any of them in the Super Bowl.
Cam Newton, Josh Norman, and many other players on the Panthers’ roster have helped the team make serious history. They’ve proven that they can withstand all kinds of adversity thrown their way this season, which is a great characteristic for any team vying for a championship. At the beginning of the season, nobody would have thought this, but the odds seem to be in favor of the Panthers reaching 19-0.
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