We’re entering the final month of the 2015 NFL season with just one undefeated team left: The Carolina Panthers after a dominant Thanksgiving performance, while the New England Patriots lose in the Colorado snow, in overtime, to leave the Panthers alone in their regular season perfection.
We’ll begin with the losers of this section this weekend, the Patriots. After 10 consecutive games against mostly bad teams (or simply those the Patriots made look bad) and dominating the Power Rankings (at least in our books), threatening to go wire-to-wire, they stumbled. It took a very good Broncos defense, a Rob Gronkowski injury and a lot of officials making mistakes in favor of the Broncos in order for that to happen. Yes, it’s that difficult beating the Patriots these days, losing in overtime.
But there are things to worry about. Like the running game becoming more and more difficult to rely on as the weeks go by, with LeGarrette Blount clearly losing a step. Brady threw three touchdown passes, but he’s losing competent guys to injuries on a weekly basis. Gronkowski won’t be out for too long and the Patriots can afford to lose more games and still win the division, but there are ways to beat them, and it’s more and more difficult for them to work with what they have left.
Meanwhile, in warmer climates, the Panthers are thriving, going 11-0 in 2015 and winning their 15th consecutive regular season game. They picked off Tony Romo three times in one half, returning two of those interceptions for touchdowns. They hit him so hard he re-injured his collarbone and is now out for the season. They held the Cowboys to just 210 yards of offense. Cam Newton? All he had to do with rush for one touchdowns. The defense already did most of the work in the 33-14 win.
And can anyone stop the Panthers except for them? Teams going undefeated often give up on games once they clinch the number one seed in their conference, which the Panthers need a few games before feeling comfortable due to the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings being around. But with four games in the division left and the other against the New York Giants, the Panthers close the season with five games against teams that are either with a losing record or on an incredible decline (Falcons, losing five of their last six).
Going undefeated means nothing at the end of the day, the Patriots know that better than anyone. But in the NFL, no game is a free gimme. The Panthers are proving to be the complete package on both sides of the football, even if it doesn’t come in the traditional ways. The Patriots aren’t worse now because they finally lost a game. Often losing helps make a team stronger. They’re weaker because they’re running out of good players.