This past spring, the Carolina Panthers became the first team in the common draft era -- dating back to 1967 -- to use all of their picks on defensive players. And while this strategy wasn't discussed beforehand, so far, the franchise is reaping the benefits of it.
Through two games -- under second-year coach Matt Rhule -- the Panthers are 2-0, tied atop the NFC South standings. And their defense has impressed, as they currently lead the NFL in average points and yards allowed, sacks, and quarterback hits. To put these numbers into context, Carolina ranked 18th in scoring defense and 23rd in sacks last season. Drastic improvements.
From 1990 through 2020, teams that started 2-0 had a 62-percent chance of making the playoffs. So, should the Panthers now be recognized as a playoff contender in the NFC? Former NFL quarterback Shaun King believes so.
"To add Haason Reddick to increase the pass rush, they drafted [first-rounder] Jaycee Horn, they've got some guys," King told the Tiki and Tierney show on Monday. "Rhule does an outstanding job leading men. The big question mark was Sam Darnold. Did the Jets ruin him, or were the Panthers going to be able to rekindle the opinion everyone had of him coming out of college. From a talent standpoint, they're as good as all but about three teams in the NFL."
On Sunday afternoon, the Panthers' defense was a force to be reckoned with. In their 26-7 win over the New Orleans Saints, the unit allowed just 128 yards, forced quarterback Jameis Winston to throw two interceptions, and racked up four sacks. A flawless gameplan from defensive coordinator Phil Snow.
Carolina's offense has also received praise. Sam Darnold -- who was traded to the Panthers by the New York Jets back in April -- completed 26 of 38 passes for 305 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the Saints. In 2020, Darnold didn't have a single game in which he recorded 200 passing yards and two passing scores for the Jets. Sunday also marked the fourth-year starter's first 300-yard game since 2019.
The Panthers have entered Week 3 on short rest, as they're scheduled to visit the Houston Texans on Thursday. According to FiveThirtyEight's projections, Carolina currently has a 49-percent chance to reach the playoffs and a 16-percent chance to win the NFC South.
The entire conversation between King and Tiki and Tierney can be accessed in the audio player above.