The Carolina Panthers Week 10 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons went a lot differently than their Week 8 contest. Just 11 days prior, the Falcons led for most of the game, the Panthers came back, D.J. Moore got a questionable celebration penalty, and the Falcons prevailed in overtime. This time, Panthers head coach Steve Wilks and his crew never let it get that close. His team jumped out to a 13-0 lead and never looked back in a 25-15 Thursday Night Football route. And after the big win, led by players like Laviska Shenault Jr. and D’Onta Foreman, Panthers fans have a lot more to be optimistic about than they did just a few weeks ago.

3. Steve Wilks may be the guy in his second shot as a head coach

In 2020, the Carolina Panthers’ billionaire owner David Tepper banked up the Brink’s truck to secure the hottest name in college coaching, Baylor’s Matt Rhule, to lead his team.

That didn’t work out well, and after posting an 11-27 record in charge, Tepper fired Rhule after Week 5 of the 2022 season. In his place, the owner elevated defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach Steve Wilks to interim head coach.

Wilks previously got one year as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals between Bruce Arians and Kliff Kingsbury. The franchise drafted quarterback Josh Rosen for him and the team went 3-13. Ownership didn’t give him a chance to coach his way out of that mess.

Now Wilks is making the best of his interim time with the Panthers. He has the team playing hard and even winning games. And that’s after trading away Christian McCaffrey as well. He has a third-string QB and the same players who went 1-4 for Rhule.

Tepper will likely conduct a thorough search for his next coach and will likely pick a bigger name than Wilks. However, just knowing that the owner will have to compare every candidate to Wilks should make fans optimistic after the Panthers Week 10 win over the Falcons.

2. There are some legitimate young stars on the roster

The Panthers traded away Christian McCaffrey to get a big haul of draft picks in return. However, the team was much more discerning when taking calls on players like defensive end Brian Burns (24 years old) and wide receiver D.J. Moore (25).

When the team takes a new (hopefully) franchise QB in the 2023 NFL Draft, the cupboard won’t be completely bare around him. In fact, what the Panthers’ Week 10 win over the Falcons showed is that the team is actually pretty stacked with young pieces.

D’Onta Foreman (26) ran the ball 31 times for 130 yards and a touchdown in the hard-nosed win. And Laviska Shenault Jr. (24), who the Panthers got from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2023 seventh-round and a 2024 sixth-round pick, added a 41-yard touchdown run.

On the defensive side, Burns had help from players like CB Jaycee Horn (22) who had a pick, LB Frankie Luvu (26), who had two sacks, and other young defenders like DL Yetur Gross-Matos (24) and CB C.J. Henderson (24).

Add those names to players like 2022 first-round pick OT Ikem Ekwonu (22) and 2021 second-rounder WR Terrace Marshall Jr. (22), and fans will see that the Panthers youth movement actually started a few years ago.

1. The Panthers aren’t playing too good

As well as the young Panthers are playing after the end of the Matt Rhule Era, they’re not playing so well that they are hurting their draft pick too badly.

The whole point of firing Rhule and trading McCaffrey is to better set the team up to get a franchise QB in the 2023 NFL Draft. Wins hurt that mission, but the team has had some nail-biting losses, which are the best-case scenario in the Panthers’ situation.

At 3-7, the Panthers are still near the bottom of the league (/top of the draft) at the halfway point of the season. As of now, that still gives Carolina a top-five pick.

The Panthers have some tough games coming up, with the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. They also finish the season with divisional games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints. The best hope for Panthers fans is that the team continues to play hard in these games and look fiesty.

However, the franchise doesn’t want the team to win too many games moving forward to send that first-round pick into the middle of the pack. It was nice to get a win over the division-rival Saints, but hopefully for fans, the team won’t get too many more Ws between now and the end of the season.

Then, the deep 2023 QB draft class will come into play, and the Panthers’ future will be as bright as it looks right now.