The Carolina Panthers entered the season with low expectations. The team cut ties with former franchise quarterback Cam Newton in the offseason, replaced longtime coach Ron Rivera with Matt Rhule, and star running back Christian McCaffrey hasn’t played since week two after spraining his ankle.
Combine those elements with the fact that Carolina is in a division that features two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees and an Atlanta Falcons team that still has key players from a recent Super Bowl appearance, and it’s easy to see why many thought the Panthers would finish last.
Instead, Carolina has taken advantage of Atlanta’s struggles, New Orleans not playing as dominant as they did a year ago, and Brady’s acclimation to Tampa not always being seamless to remain competitive in the division race.
The Panters are 3-3, a half-game behind the Saints and one game behind the Bucs in the division. After losing their first two games, the Panthers have won three of four, including an impressive win over the Los Angeles Rams. Their October 11 win over the Atlanta Falcons dropped the Falcons to 0-5 and was immediately followed by the team firing the head coach and general manager.
Teddy Bridgewater, who was signed from New Orleans in the offseason, has been consistent but not spectacular replacing Newton. He has only six touchdown passes, but he is completing 70 percent of his passes.
Mike Davis has stepped in for McCaffrey and rushed for 272 yards while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He also has helped replace McCaffrey as a dual threat in the passing game. He has 32 catches and four total touchdowns.
Robby Anderson leads the team with 40 receptions, and Bridgewater has also developed good chemistry with DJ Moore, who has 27 catches.
The Panthers defense has also been solid but unspectacular. The team has nine takeaways, and their offense has only turned it over twice.
Carolina has tough odds to make a playoff push in the NFC – they're currently tied with the 49ers for the eighth best record in the league. But if they get McCaffrey back and continue to take care of the ball, they have a good chance at hanging around in the race all season.