It's time to consider if the undefeated Panthers can run the table

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The locker room was thinning out following Sunday's 37-29 victory over the Green Bay Packers when linebacker Thomas Davis was asked if the Carolina Panthers could run the table.

Davis pointed toward a large replica of the schedule on a wall about 10 feet away.

"Our next opponent is going to be the Tennessee Titans in Tennessee, and Tennessee just came away with a huge victory against the Saints," said Davis, whose interception at the Carolina 3-yard line with just less than two minutes kept the Panthers (8-0) undefeated.

"They're a team that is on the mend. They got their quarterback back, and from the looks of it he played pretty well today."

In other words, Davis wasn't going to talk about an undefeated season.

None of his teammates would, either.

But perhaps it's time to consider the possibility. The Panthers are two games clear of Green Bay (6-2), Minnesota (6-2) and Arizona (6-2) in the NFC. They are 2½ ahead of Atlanta (6-3) in the NFC South.

They've gotten through the hardest four-game stretch of their schedule, and the remaining opponents are a combined 31-35.

Quarterback Cam Newton is playing at an MVP level, as he reinforced with Sunday's four-touchdown -- three passing, one running -- performance.

The maligned wide receiver corps got a boost from second-round pick Devin Funchess, who caught three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. If he can build on that performance, the loss of Kelvin Benjamin to a knee injury in training camp won't seem nearly as dire.

The defense entered the game as a top-10 unit, and it should be even better when end Charles Johnson (hamstring) returns for the Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas.

Special teams aren't giving up touchdowns like they did last season.

The Panthers aren't without flaws. They blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against the Indianapolis Colts before finally winning in overtime. They gave up two touchdowns in the final eight minutes on Sunday, and were four yards from giving up another.

Receivers still drop passes, although none occurred in Sunday's game. They still don't run consistently well without a huge contribution from Newton, but that is part of what makes Newton an MVP candidate.

There are a lot of teams that would love to have 19 consecutive games with 100 yards or more rushing as Carolina does.

So can the Panthers run the table?

"We've just got to take it one day at a time," defensive end Mario Addison said.

That has been the key through a regular-season win streak that has reached 12. The Panthers are focused, and they have enough quality depth that they can survive the loss of key players -- as they already have.

"We've got guys that can come off the bench and make things happen," Addison said. "Like me, I'm not a starter. I can come in and close out when they need me.

"We've also got great leadership. That's the main thing."

The Panthers also have a schedule that doesn't make a 16-0 regular season totally unrealistic. Only three of their next eight games are against teams with winning records, and two of those are against Atlanta, which has lost three of its past four.

The other is against the 5-4 New York Giants.

The toughest games likely will be at Dallas, at Atlanta, at New Orleans and at New York -- and all are winnable.

The Panthers already have won the two toughest games on their schedule against Seattle and Green Bay, considered the front-runners in the NFC.

If they can win at least five of their final eight games, there's a good chance they could host the playoffs through the NFC championship.

Sunday was important because it probably prevented a trip to frigid Lambeau Field in January. The one thing players would admit on Sunday was they would prefer to be home than in Wisconsin.

They just wouldn't talk about the possibility of going undefeated.

"We know who we are as a team," Roman Harper said. "We don't worry about what everybody else has to say and what they rank us, because in this locker room we think we are the best team … whenever we line up."

The Panthers have been through eight games. Considering that this time last year they were mired in a non-winning streak that would reach seven straight, they've come a long way.

Because most of their games have come down to one possession, they realize they've got a long way to go.

"We're doing something that's hard to do in this league, and that is to become 8-0," Newton said. "Are we satisfied? No. We know that a perfect Panther game is still out there."

That's the only perfection they're focused on. And because that is the focus, it's not unrealistic to think they can run the table.