The Panthers’ Super Bowl hopes start with the league’s frontrunner to win Most Valuable Player honors. Already a prolific runner in his first four NFL seasons, Newton came into his own as a passer this year despite losing his top target from a year ago (wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin) to a season-ending knee injury last August during training camp. Newton posted career highs in quarterback rating (99.4) and touchdowns (35) while reducing his interceptions to a career-low 10. He also matured as a team leader and helped carry the Panthers to an NFL-best 14-0 record before Carolina suffered its first loss.
Nine other Pro Bowl selections
The Panthers are hardly a one-man band with Newton, especially on defense. Cornerback Josh Norman, defensive tackle Kawann Short, and linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are among the top players — if not the best — at their positions across the league. The quartet highlights a unit that surrendered an average of 4.9 yards a play during the regular season, which is tied with Seattle for the league’s lowest total behind Denver (4.4).
Securing the NFC’s No. 1 seed could be what pushes the Panthers into their first Super Bowl since the 2003 season. Carolina has won an NFL-high 11 consecutive games at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.