NFL: Can Anyone Beat the 14-0 Carolina Panthers?

 Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In an ugly showdown between the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL and one of the contenders to win the worst division in the NFC, the Carolina Panthers held on to beat the New York Giants 38-35, improving to 14-0 on the season with only one road matchup with the 7-7 Atlanta Falcons and one home date with the 6-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers remaining.

Not only is Carolina really good, but they’re fun to root for. Cam Newton is an extremely skilled quarterback, using both his arm and his legs — and he is a really good guy too. They don’t have the most conventional offense; it’s built on Newton running around or throwing the ball to role players, such as tight end Greg Olsen, or handing it off to veteran back Jonathan Stewart.

The Panthers put together the unique build of a high-scoring offense and a defense that prevents points. Heading into Week 15, they’ve scored the most points in the NFL while allowing the fourth-fewest in on the other end. They have 33 total turnovers on defense and have given up the ball 15 times so far. They don’t pass the ball a lot, but they run it more than anyone, ranking second in rushing yards and touchdowns in the NFL.

Can any team stop the Panthers? At this point in the season, it would take a lot for a team such as the Falcons — who are 1-6 in their last seven games — to knock off Carolina. The Bucs are not a favorite to do it, either. However, with the nature of the NFL and the fact that the Panthers are likely focusing on resting for the playoffs, there’s always a chance that they could lose. What’s more important than figuring out if they can pull off an undefeated season is whether or not there’s a team that’s properly built to get in their way — and maybe even knock them out of the playoffs.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As it stands right now, the Panthers will get the first-round bye and face the winner of the matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the winner of the NFC East. Neither the Vikings nor any of the East’s mediocre teams are good enough to beat the Panthers — despite the Giants rallying on Sunday to tie the game after being down 35-7. The Vikings have yet to beat a good opponent this season, bolstering their record by beating up on the bad and mediocre teams in their schedule. The team that comes out of the NFC East victorious will probably end up losing this matchup.

The well-rested Panthers will send Minnesota home. Then, Carolina will move on to the NFC Championship, with likely contenders in the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers beat both the Packers and Seahawks this season. They blew out the Packers at home in a seemingly close game. The final score was 37-29 due to a late, fruitless Packers rally. Green Bay has a middle-of-the-pack offense and a decent overall defense, but it relies heavily on pass defense. Their run defense is among the worst in the NFL; a bad combination against a team that likes to pound the ball on the ground. We find it hard to envision the Packers beating the Panthers in the NFC Championship.

The two-time defending NFC Champion Seahawks are a different story. In their head-to-head matchup in Seattle this season, the Seahawks actually held a 23-14 lead with about four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Stewart rushed for a touchdown, and after getting the ball back, Newton hit Olsen for a 26-yard score with just 32 seconds remaining in the game. The Panthers snuck out with a 27-23 win, but the Seahawks believe they can beat Carolina.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Seattle has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards in the NFL, and opponents average just 3.6 yards per carry against them. Russell Wilson is on fire lately, having a 145.9 QB rating, 75.42 completion percentage, and 16 touchdowns to zero interceptions in his last four games heading into Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns.

The Cardinals don’t have a good measuring stick for a potential game against Carolina, but they are 11-2 with a high-powered offense that scores points and gets big chunks of yards through the air. The Cardinals have the most passing yards and passing yards per attempt in the NFL. But the Panthers have a strong pass defense, allowing just 16 touchdowns thrown in comparison to 21 interceptions — the most in the NFL.

If there is any team built to beat the Panthers, it’s the Seahawks. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that the Seahawks will win the playoff games necessary to meet up with Carolina. Seattle is known for being a tough place to play for a road team, but the Seahawks will be on the road if they draw the Panthers in the playoffs.

It’s possible that any of the teams mentioned — or even an AFC team in the Super Bowl — could take down Carolina. Nobody thought that the undefeated New England Patriots would lose to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, but one amazing catch by David Tyree, and here we are. The Panthers’ storyline will be the most fun to watch in the playoffs, whether they are going for an undefeated season or a Super Bowl victory.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanDavisMLB

Statistics courtesy of NFL.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.