Seven NFL teams have yet to taste defeat this season. For some of them – namely the Patriots, Packers and Broncos – this is not surprising. For others, however, it is.
Which 3-0 team is the most surprising?
“Maybe the Carolina Panthers,” NFL.com analyst Gregg Rosenthal said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I know they’ve been a team that’s been in the playoffs the last couple of years, but I had the Falcons winning this division. I mean, I’m still surprised (the Falcons are) 3-0, but if you look at the way the Panthers are winning, it’s against ugly teams (and) winning kind of with ugly offense. But I’m still impressed considering the lack of weapons Cam Newton has around him that they’ve really kept it going from the end of last year.”
Newton has seven touchdowns (five pass, two rush) and just two interceptions this season. His top receivers have been Greg Olsen, a tight end, and Ted Ginn Jr., who has caught 40+ balls in a season just once – and not since 2008. Nevertheless, the Panthers keep winning.
Without elite weapons at the skill positions, the Panthers’ best bet for helping Newton might just be to keep stopping people. Carolina is allowing just 16.0 points per game – second-best in football.
“Josh Norman is emerging as a top-notch cornerback,” Rosenthal said. “I would say (he’s had) a Pro Bowl type of start to his season. They just traded for Jared Allen, who’s going to fill in for Charles Johnson. They’re going to need that help on the pass rush. If (Newton) gets enough help from their running game and the defense, I think this is maybe the year when everyone starts realizing Cam has been a top 10 quarterback really since he entered the league. He does it a little differently than some of the other quarterbacks out there, but I think his ability to play differently and win games for this team shows that there aren’t really a lot of quarterbacks out there that can elevate his teammates like Cam.”
Interestingly enough, the only division with two undefeated teams is the NFC South, which last year went a combined 22-41-1 and failed to produce even one team with a winning record. The Falcons, who are fifth in the NFL in scoring offense (29.7 points per game), look like a safe bet to change that.
What’s the biggest difference in Atlanta under Dan Quinn?
“I think they’re more aggressive,” Rosenthal said. “You look at the way they ended the first half of last week’s game where they have very little time. That’s a situation where Mike Smith is just going to kneel the ball or run it up the middle and go to halftime. But Dan Quinn is going for points.”
And he got them. The Falcons marched 66 yards in 40 seconds to set up a 32-yard field goal by Matt Bryant and pull within 28-17 of the Cowboys. Dallas didn’t score again, and Atlanta won 39-28.
“The defense (is playing) with a lot more energy,” Rosenthal said. “Vic Beasley looks like one of the best top 10 picks from this class. He’s already a very good edge rusher, which they desperately needed.”
Indeed, one year after going 6-10, the Falcons appear poised to turn things around in a hurry.
“There’s not a lot of difference in the NFL between 6-10 and 10-6, and I think they’re a good example of that,” Rosenthal said. “If you look at their schedule the rest of the way, the best team they play is probably the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts. They do not have a tough schedule at all. That’s true for the Falcons – and really the entire NFC South – and I think the Falcons especially are going to be able to take advantage of it.”