Bryan, do you believe this is the season that Thomas Davis can finally make the Pro Bowl? And who else do you believe should be in the Pro Bowl for the Panthers? – Richard in Fayetteville, N.C.
If the question was whether Davis should make the Pro Bowl, the answer would be simple and emphatic: Yes. But this isn't the first year that Davis has been worthy of the Pro Bowl, yet he's still looking for his first invitation. The reality is that he has a lot of obstacles to overcome to get the necessary votes, but I do think it is more possible this year than ever.
Here's the deal. As an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, Davis is at an inherent disadvantage because he's competing for votes against outside linebackers in 3-4 defenses – players who are essentially pass rushers first and therefore are in position to put up the kind of sacks that catch voters' eyes. Five of the six outside linebackers voted onto the team last year ranked among the top 12 in the NFL in sacks. The lone exception was Tambi Hali of the Chiefs, who had a quiet sack season by his standards but had already set the standard by making the Pro Bowl each of the previous three seasons.
Davis could combat that this year, though. From a stats standpoint, he's the only player in the NFL to record at least three sacks and three interceptions to date. An even bigger stat may be the Panthers' 8-0 record, a run of success that has set Davis up to receive more positive publicity nationally than ever before. It's still an uphill battle because of the way the ballot is set up, but if anyone can overcome long odds, Panthers fans know it's Davis.
As far as other Panthers that deserve Pro Bowl consideration, all the usual suspects (Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen, Ryan Kalil) do, but so do some new faces. Cornerback Josh Norman is having a special year, as is defensive tackle Kawann Short. Along the offensive line, guard Trai Turner has really stood out.
What can the Panthers do to stop giving up leads in the fourth quarter? They look like then are a half a step short or a half a second slow. – Danny in Salisbury, N.C.
Head coach Ron Rivera clearly isn't pleased the Panthers weren't able to truly put away their last two opponents, but here's a little perspective to keep in mind. It wasn't that long ago that Rivera would talk in a postgame press conference about his team not being able to finish – and he would be talking about a loss. Here, we're talking about victories.
Going forward, such sluggish showings down the stretch could be the difference between winning and losing, but there's plenty of reason to think those concerns won't linger. First, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers would be on everybody's short list of quarterbacks most capable of spearheading a rally from a big deficit. Rodgers doesn't need any help, but last Sunday he got some courtesy of the Panthers and some more when a couple of close calls went his way.
The Panthers had no problem protecting leads in the previous two games that were well in hand. And when an opponent does rally – which is going to happen in the NFL from time to time – the Panthers have proven that they know how to answer the call when the game suddenly hangs in the balance.
When can we expect the offense to score more than the 27 points they have been? – Dustin in Shingleton, Mich.
I'm not sure if you meant to be sarcastic in your question or not, but the offense is doing just fine. The Panthers currently rank fourth in the NFL in scoring at 28.5 points per game. Carolina has scored 27 or more points in six consecutive games after reaching 27 just four times during the entire 2014 regular season. The most important stat about the offense? They've scored more points than the opposing offense in every game so far.
Mr. Strickland, are the Panthers ever gonna come to San Diego so that they can destroy the Chargers while I drink a beer on the visiting side? – Brandon in San Diego
You'd best put that beer in the back of your fridge because it's going to be awhile. The Chargers are scheduled to come to Charlotte next season, but the Panthers won't visit the Chargers again until 2020. The way the NFL schedule is currently set up, the Panthers go eight years between trips to AFC opponents.
By the way, the NFL's scheduling formula allows you to look ahead and see who and where the Panthers will play 14 of their 16 regular season games in the coming years. Next season, the Panthers will play everyone in the NFC West and everyone in the AFC West in addition to their six annual NFC South games. Their other two games will be based on the final standings, with one team from the NFC East and one from the NFC North completing the schedule.
View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Green Bay.