We’ve had an opportunity to look at the early betting on Super Bowl 50 and a chance to give our thoughts on how things will play out on Sunday. An important thing to look at as the Super Bowl draws near is how the actual representatives of their respective conferences punched their ticket for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions. With that said, let’s take a look at the Carolina Panthers’ road to Super Bowl L. In another article, we’ll detail the AFC Champion Denver Broncos’ path to Santa Clara for the Super Bowl.
Regular Season Record: 15-1
Standing: 1st in NFC West, top overall team in the NFC and the league
NFC Wild Card Round: Bye
NFC Divisional Playoff: Beat Seattle 31-24 at home
NFC Championship Game: Beat Arizona 49-15 at home
At the beginning of the season, there weren’t a ton of people that were touting Carolina as being a Super Bowl contender. The thought process was that Atlanta would return to form under new coach Dan Quinn and New Orleans would find a way to get back to status quo. Hopes were even high in Tampa Bay as first overall pick Jameis Winston was expected to rejuvenate a dreadful Buccaneers offense. While Carolina made the playoffs in 2014, it’s not like anyone would have confused them as a powerhouse. The Panthers were 3-8-1 before winning their final four games to win the NFC West. Carolina did win a playoff game at home but it came over an Arizona team that didn’t have Carson Palmer. They were clipped by Seattle in the divisional round.
The 2015 season was an impressive won for the Panthers. Carolina got off to a bit of a sluggish start as they opened the year with a 20-9 road win over Jacksonville. The Panthers followed that up with a tight 24-17 home win over Houston in week 2 and a 27-22 home win over New Orleans in week 3. Carolina picked up a 37-23 win over Winston and Tampa Bay in week 4, giving the Panthers a 4-0 record heading into their bye week.
The four week stretch between weeks six and nine, coming right after Carolina’s week 5 bye, proved to be the defining point of the Panthers’ season. The Panthers were down 23-14 in the fourth quarter at Seattle in week 6. Cam Newton led the Panthers on back to back 80 yard touchdown drives, capped with a 26 yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen with 32 seconds to play, giving Carolina a 27-23 road win. A week later, the Panthers handled the Eagles 27-16 at home to go to 6-0 on the season. In week eight, on November 2, on Monday Night Football, the Panthers hosted Indianapolis, who still had Andrew Luck under center at the time: Carolina led 23-6 in the fourth quarter but was pushed to overtime. In the extra session, Graham Gano booted two field goals, including the game winner from 52 yards, to give Carolina a 29-26 win and a 7-0 mark. Six days later, Carolina jumped to a 27-7 halftime lead at home over Green Bay and held on for a 37-29 win.
Carolina followed up their win over the Packers with three straight one-sided victories. The Panthers dusted Tennessee 27-10 on the road and then obliterated eventual NFC East champion Washington 44-16 at home to go to 10-0. In a Thanksgiving Day game, the Panthers clubbed Dallas 33-14 on the road. In the process, the defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns and ended Tony Romo’s season by breaking his collarbone for the second time on the season. In a wild, back and forth game in the Superdome in week 13, it took a 15 yard touchdown pass from Newton to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:05 to play, his fifth TD pass of the game, to give Carolina a 41-38 win over the Saints to improve to 12-0.
The Panthers kept rolling in week 14 as they plastered Atlanta 38-0 at home to go to 13-0 on the year. Carolina had their hands full again in week 15 as they faced the New York Giants. The Panthers ran to a 35-7 lead with 5:32 to play in the third quarter but wilted: Eli Manning led the Giants back, eventually tying the score at 35 with 1:46 to play. Newton was undaunted: after throwing for five touchdown passes, he led Carolina 49 yards to set up Gano’s 43 yard field goal as time expired. Carolina took a 38-35 win and improved to 14-0 on the year.
Carolina suffered their lone loss of the season a week later as Atlanta’s defense came to life, stifling the Panthers in a 20-13 win at the Georgia Dome. The Panthers closed the regular season with a 38-10 pummeling of the Buccaneers to close the regular season with a 15-1 mark. That is a franchise record for wins in a season.
After getting a bye in the wild card round and procuring home field advantage, the Panthers sat back and waited for Seattle to survive the frigid temperatures in Minnesota and a 27 yard missed field goal by Blair Walsh in the final minute to win 10-9 and advance to face Carolina. The Seahawks were blitzed by a hungry Panthers team: Carolina led 14-0 after one quarter and bolted to a 31-0 edge at halftime. Seattle tried to rally, cutting the lead to 31-24 with 1:12 to play. The Panthers recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to advance to the NFC Championship.
The NFC Championship Game was almost a carbon copy of the NFC Divisional round: the Panthers were up 17-0 after one quarter and 24-7 at the half. Carolina refused to let Arizona get back in the game as the Panthers forced seven Cardinals turnovers. The Panthers outgained the Cardinals 476-287 and kept Arizona reeling in the second half. Carolina outscored the Cardinals 25-8 in the second half en route to a 49-15 win. The Panthers’ point total was the most in a conference championship game since Buffalo blasted the then-Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3, in the 1990 AFC Championship.
Check out our Super Bowl betting tips for Sunday’s season finale! Who are you backing?