CHARLOTTE - From the outset, nothing about the 2016 Panthers evokes memories of the 2015 team that lost just one regular-season game and went to the Super Bowl.
That is, until you look at quarterback Cam Newton's statistics.
The reigning league MVP's numbers through 6 games are very similar to his 2015 stats through the same amount of games.
2015/First 6 Games
- 212.5 passing yards per game
- 9 TD-7 INT
- 40.8 rushing yards per game
- 4 rushing TDs
2016/First 6 Games
- 216 passing yards per game
- 8 TD-6 INT
- 24.6 rushing yards per game
- 3 rushing TDs
The only numbers that stand out as being markedly different are the decreased rushing yards per game, as the Panthers have made a clear effort to protect Newton.
This is how Newton finished 2015...
- 256.2 passing yards per game
- 26 TD-3 INT
- 39.1 rushing yards per game
- 6 rushing TDs
What other factors can help?
1. WIDE RECEIVERS
Head Coach Ron Rivera said much of that was due to the Panthers receiving core gelling.
"That group really solidified themselves," Rivera said Monday. "That group took off. They did a great job for us."
2. BAD DEFENSES
Looking across the field, the defenses the Panthers face over the final 10 games of 2016 are slightly better than the ones they torched to finish 2015.
The Panthers opponents in the final 10 games this year hold an average ranking of 18.3 in terms of yards allowed per game. The final 10 opponents of 2015 averaged a ranking of 20.3.
In 2016 the Panthers will face two Top 10 defenses (Arizona, Seattle) as opposed to one (Tampa Bay) in 2015, and four Top 15 defenses (ARI, LAR, SEA, TB) as opposed to just two to close out 2015.
3. PANTHERS DEFENSE/RUN SUPPORT
Carolina's defense needs to help out too. Right now the Panthers are 24th in the NFL, as opposed to its ranking of 6th in 2015.
And the run game, No. 1 in the league last year, has plummeted to 14th this season. Shoring up those two areas would help Cam and the offense make a similar turnaround.