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The Panthers are a lot closer to the Patriots than most NFL fans want to admit

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Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It's assumed the Patriots are better than the Panthers. It has become one of those widely-accepted objective truths of football. On paper there's no argument, New England is a well-rounded team without discernible weaknesses, but something very curious happens when you actually get inside the numbers.

Every power ranking you'll read today will have Patriots first and Panthers second. It's been that way for weeks and the Pats have been locked into the No.1 spot by pretty much every publication and outlet since the season began. I'm here to tell you that not only is that inaccurate, but that the Panthers are better than New England.

Offense

Yards-per-game will tell you that the Patriots are the better team here. They're ranked 3rd in the league, driving for 412 each week. Meanwhile the Panthers are back in 15th, gaining 354 yards on Sundays. This is the tiniest portion of the story, and one that's misleading. The reality is that both offenses are much closer than it appears.

- New England averages 32.3 points per game, Carolina averages 29.9

- The Patriots average 6.2 yards per play, the Panthers have 5.3

- New England averages 24.1 first downs per game, Carolina is at 21.7

Edge: Patriots, but it's closer than people want to admit.

Defense

Now we're into a place where the Panthers out-shine New England. The Panthers are ranked 4th in the NFL, allowing 322.8 yards per game, while the Patriots are in 15th -- allowing 341.3. Much like on offense, the two teams are a lot closer than you would think.

- Carolina allows 322.8 yards per game, New England gives up 341.3.

- The Panthers allow 4.8 yards per play, the Patriots allow 5.2.

- Carolina has sacked the quarterback 31.0 times, New England 32.0

- The Panthers have a total of 25 turnovers to the Patriots' 14.

Edge: Carolina, but again -- closer than you might think.

Strength of schedule

This is the elephant in the room, right? There's this perception that the Carolina Panthers are 10-0 right now because of a soft schedule, while the Patriots are there through grit, determination, the out-and-out brilliance of Tom Brady and the mastermind that is Bill Belichick.

Brady is brilliant and Belichick is a genius, but this is fundamentally a lie when it comes to both team's 2015 records.

- Win/loss of Carolina opponents: 45-55 (0.450)

- Win/loss of Patriots opponents: 46-54 (0.460)

A hundredth of one percent -- a hundredth. One win across 100 games is all that separates the Panthers and Patriots in 2015.

Edge: Tie

Final result

I'm not going to say Carolina deserves to be ahead of the Patriots in power rankings, but I am saying that there should be a discussion. New England will get the bump because they've been here before, however we need to really discuss the difference in perception between these teams.

They are basically mirror images of each other and it's very difficult to distinguish one from the other. However, if you're asking me which team is doing more with less than there's no contest: The Panthers have a worse offensive line, worse receivers, their pass rushers don't have the top-end talent with Charles Johnson out and the coaches aren't as good as New England's.

To some that's evidence that the Patriots are the better team and I can see an argument for it, however I would make a strong case that nobody in the NFL has done more with less than the Panthers -- and when we're talking only slight differences between the Panthers and Patriots, well, there's a subjective argument to be made for putting Carolina first.