The Carolina Panthers opened the 2013 season by holding Seattle to 12 points, still the Seahawks' second-lowest output in 27 games with Russell Wilson at quarterback. The Panthers allowed nine points to their most recent opponent, San Francisco, and they enter their "Monday Night Football" game against the New England Patriots leading the NFL in points allowed per game (12.77) after Kansas City gave up 27 to Denver in a loss on Sunday night.
Multiple factors explain the Panthers’ defensive revival under coordinator Sean McDermott. They were already set at defensive end with Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, but linebacker Thomas Davis has come back strong from a third knee reconstruction and Carolina has patched an injured secondary. But above all else, the Panthers swung big and hit home runs in the past two drafts, landing foundational players in Luke Kuechly and Star Lotulelei, plus Kawann Short. They are loaded in their front seven as a result.
If only every NFL team could remake a lagging position group so quickly and decisively.
“They get so much pressure up front and they are so gap sound up front that it has changed the dynamic of their defense totally,” said an NFL scout who has studied the Panthers. “To their credit, they hit on their picks.”
The Panthers’ defense faces a different test Monday night against Tom Brady and the Patriots. There is always a chance the Patriots will spread the field and push the offensive tempo in a manner that exposes holes in the Panthers' secondary while keeping the pass rush off balance. But win or lose, the Panthers’ approach to upgrading their defensive front can stand as an example for others. Just how much have the Panthers improved? We answer that question while identifying another team in prime position to realize similar results in the 2014 draft. And we'll run through a few other hot topics from Week 14, including Ben Roethlisberger's future, the Broncos-Chiefs fallout and the likely top eight teams on my upcoming Power Rankings ballot.