This year’s Carolina Panthers could be one of the most surprising championship teams of the Super Bowl era. They were almost universally written off after losing star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending injury sustained in OTA’s before the season started. So, of course, Carolina responded by going 15-1 in the regular season and winning their second NFC championship after a third straight NFC South division title. An MVP-calibre season from quarterback Cam Newton and the league’s most disruptive defense has the Panthers headed to Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50. The entire team has embraced the personality of Newton; dabbing, dancing, and Creedbombing their way to a Super Bowl berth. So how did they get there? Let’s take a look at the pivotal games that secured Carolina’s place in the Super Bowl. Week 6 @ Seattle: 27-23 Panthers In a showdown with the defending NFC champions, the Panthers trailed 23-14 in the fourth quarter as Seattle’s defense seemed to have the measure of Cam Newton. Newton responded with two straight touchdown possessions, finding a gap in the Legion of Boom for a 26 yard game-winning pass to tight end Greg Olsen. Week 8 vs Indianapolis: 29-26 Panthers (OT) Carolina held a 17 point lead halfway through the fourth quarter against the struggling Colts, but Andrew Luck drew Indianapolis level and took the game to overtime. The teams traded field goals before Luke Kuechly intercepted Luck to set up Graham Gano’s game-winning field goal. Week 9 vs Green Bay: 37-29 Panthers In a potential playoff preview, Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score for a 37-6 lead. But Aaron Rodgers led a fourth quarter comeback from 23 points down, until Thomas Davis intercepted him on fourth-and-goal at Carolina’s three yard line with just under two minutes left to seal the win for the Panthers. Week 15 @ New York Giants: 38-35 Panthers In a game that gained notoriety for all the wrong reasons, Carolina faced a scare at the Meadowlands while trying to reach 14-0. A famously bitter game saw multiple clashes between Odell Beckham Jr. and star cornerback Josh Norman and the rest of Carolina’s secondary. The Giants trailed 35-7 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter, but orchestrated an impressive comeback. Beckham took a break from fighting to tie the game at 35-35 with 2:31 left. But Cam Newton calmly led a game-winning field goal drive for a 38-35 win as time expired. Week 16 @ Atlanta: Falcons 20-13 Under intense scrutiny as they tried to become only the third team in history to go undefeated in the regular season, the Panthers finally came unstuck in Atlanta, just two weeks after beating the Falcons 38-0 in Carolina. Newton and the offense struggled to move the ball for much of the game. With the score tied at 13-13, it was Julio Jones who made the big play with a 70 yard touchdown catch to put Atlanta ahead with 90 seconds left. Newton then fumbled after being strip sacked by rookie Vic Beasley, securing the win for the Falcons. Newton was held to just 188 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Postseason Action With a 15-1 record in the regular season, the Panthers secured the NFC’s top seed for the playoffs. Their first postseason game would be against Seattle in the divisional round. Carolina dominated the first half, racing out to a 31-0 lead thanks to two touchdowns from Jonathan Stewart, a score from Newton and a pick-six by Luke Kuechly. But Seattle came back in the second half as Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns, dragging Seattle within seven points. But, after winning last year’s NFC title after a botched onside kick by Green Bay, it was Seattle’s turn for special teams heartbreak as Thomas Davis recovered Steven Hauschka’s onside kick to secure a 31-24 win for Carolina. The Panthers would play for the NFC title. An eagerly awaited NFC championship game match-up between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina failed to deliver, as the Panthers throttled the Cardinals. Carson Palmer committed six of Arizona’s seven turnovers (four interceptions and two fumbles) and was sacked three times. Carolina’s defense brought pressure all night, limiting Arizona’s high-octane offense to just 287 total yards. Newton threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, as Ted Ginn added another rushing touchdown and Luke Kuechly had another pick six. After a 49-15 blowout, Carolina celebrated as they hoisted the George Halas Trophy, already looking forward to their Super Bowl 50 match-up with the Denver Broncos.