As the playoffs approach, here are nine key numbers I find interesting from the regular season for the Carolina Panthers:
4 -- The Panthers enter the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record and the No.4 seed in the NFC. Do you know where they would have been seeded had they been, say, 11-5? Still No.4. Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas took the first three spots with 12-4 records.
7 -- The Panthers have started seven rookies toward the end of the season, and the speed and energy from that group has been essential.
10 -- Despite a run early in the season where Carolina gave up 37, 38, 24, 37 and 38 points in consecutive weeks, the Panthers' defense rebounded to finish 10th in the NFL in total defense. In the final four games, Carolina allowed fewer points (43) than it did in one horrid Monday night game Nov.10 at Philadelphia (45). The biggest reason is Luke Kuechly, shown above and my choice for Panther MVP this season, but there have been a lot of contributors.
29 -- This is Cam Newton's rank in completion percentage among NFL quarterbacks. He's only completing 58.5 percent of his passes.
32 -- This is punter Brad Nortman's rank in net average (36.5 yards), which makes him dead last among NFL punters. This is mostly not Nortman's fault, because Carolina is the worst in the NFL in allowing punt-return yardage (the special-teams coverage units needs a serious offseason upgrade, but little can be done about it now). Think former Panther Ted Ginn Jr., who returns both kickoffs and punts for Arizona, is licking his lips right now?
63 -- The Panthers went an astonishing 63 days between victories and still made the playoffs. They won their first two games and also won their last four, but went 1-8-1 in between. Between Oct.5 and Dec.7, they did not win a game.
115 -- The Panthers' defense had this many yards returning Matt Ryan interceptions Sunday in the 34-3 win over Atlanta. The Panthers' offense gained 114 yards on Cam Newton completions. In other words, Ryan threw for one more yard to Carolina players than Newton did (and one more touchdown, too).
539 -- Newton's rushing yardage. He was third in the NFL in that statistic for quarterbacks, trailing only Russell Wilson (849) and Colin Kaepernick (639), despite the Panthers trying hard to keep him in the pocket for much of the season to protect him from further injury.
1008 -- In the season of the tie -- Carolina's only one in its 20-year history came on Oct.12 vs. Cincinnati -- this seemed fitting. Both Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin ended up with exactly 1,008 receiving yards, tying for the team lead.