Every year, there’s a few teams in the NFL that come out of nowhere, jumping into the playoffs after laying low throughout the season. This time around, there’s plenty of potential sleepers in the field, but there’s only a few that really catch our eyes as teams to watching moving forward.
After a slow start that put plenty of pressure on head coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers are above .500, and they’re doing it by beating everyone they should, while playing consistent football.
The Panthers’ sudden rise to conversation worthy levels shouldn’t surprise anyone. With Cam Newton, a young quarterback who has gone largely unnoticed this season, the Panthers present one of the most dangerous offensive attacks in the NFL. Newton has a big arm and the ability to hurt opponents with his legs as well. The combination is finally paying dividends, and the Panthers are clawing their way back into the playoff discussion.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are a rare team. They haven’t change a whole lot from a personnel perspective over the years, but their level of play fluctuates greatly. With a new regime in town, the Chargers are playing competitive football, and most importantly, they’re winning games.
Philip Rivers may be one of the fieriest quarterbacks in the NFL, but his new found ability to simmer down and keep cool in clutch moments has led to some big wins for the Chargers. The team’s most complete win came against the Indianapolis Colts. In that game, the Chargers’ offense moved the ball well, but it was their defense that left us stunned by completely shutting down Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offensive attack.
At just 4-4, the Arizona Cardinals have a lot more work to do to get themselves into the playoffs, but last weekend against the Atlanta Falcons, the Cardinals showed that they can whip up on lesser teams when they don’t beat themselves, something head coach Bruce Arians has been preaching all season.
The Cardinals have a dynamic offense backed up by one of the stingier defensive units in the NFL. When Arizona isn’t busy giving the opponent in the ball in great field position, that defense has the ability to shut down most teams’ offenses. When that happens, the Cardinals don’t have to score 35 or 40 points to win games.
If, and that’s a big “if,” Carson Palmer can avoid turnovers down the road, the Cardinals have a very real chance to work their way back into the wildcard picture. It’ll take an exceptional second half of the season to do it, but the talent required is present in Arizona, and with solid play, the Cardinals could actually morph into one of the better teams in the league.