As the month of November comes to a close the landscape in the National Football League changes. The Super Bowl contenders rise up to the challenge in harsher conditions, the playoff teams start to hit their stride, and the overachievers and average teams start to wilt away under the pressure of the postseason. When the Jets face off against the Panthers on Sunday, they have a chance to prove to the NFL that they belong in the postseason hunt. The only way for the Jets to prove that is if the defense rises to the challenge that the Carolina Panthers bring.

The Carolina Panthers come into this matchup off their bye week, winners of their last three games due in large part to a resurgence of their offensive line and rushing attack. For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers have rushed for over 200 yards in back-to-back games. Tha Panthers last game, a Monday Night beatdown of the Dolphins, Carolina rushed for 294 total yards and accumulated 548 net yards. With Jonathan Stewart (110 yards against Miami), Christian McCaffrey (94 total yards) and Cam Newton (95 yards rushing) spearheading the running game, Head Coach Todd Bowles knows the challenge ahead.

“Any time you play versatile players it’s going to be a problem. McCaffrey can run inside and outside, and catch the ball out of the backfield. He can even throw it if he needs to. It’s not just McCaffrey though, it’s Stewart as well. It’s Cam and it’s (Greg) Olsen and it’s (Devin) Fuchness. It’s all of the above. You have to pick your spots and play fundamental football.”

While both McCaffrey and Stewart have turned their rushing totals up a notch, the obvious key to the Panthers success is the dual threat that is Cam Newton. Stopping the former NFL MVP is easier said than done according to Bowles.

“He presents tall challenges. In the running game, passing game, in the pocket, out of the pocket, deep and short passes, handing the ball off, running himself, he’s a good football player. He’s one of the quarterbacks that has all facets to his game… We have to play an overall fundamental football game.”

One of the main reasons why Cam and Co. have been so successful as of late, is because of their production on third down. Carolina is currently first in the NFL at third-down conversions at just under 47%. Over their last three games, they have converted on 52% of third-downs. In comparison, the Jets defense is giving up a 40% third down conversion rate, good for 18th in the NFL. If the Jets want to pull off the upset, the defense must step up and get off the field on third down.

With four of their final six games against playoff teams, the Jets have a mountain to climb if they want to make the postseason. To pull off multiple upsets, starting on Sunday, the Jets must protect the football on offense and the defense must go from being young and inexperienced, to lethal and unforgiving. The run to the playoffs begins on Sunday.

The Jets battle the Panthers on Sunday at 1:00pm at MetLife Stadium.
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