Are 2-0 Carolina Panthers a playoff team? DE Brian Burns thinks so: 'Yeah. Facts.'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns wasn’t familiar with the historical significance of what starting 2-0 means in terms of making the playoffs.

He has never needed to check, since his first two seasons began with consecutive losses.

But Burns didn’t need historical significance on Sunday when asked whether the Panthers are a playoff team after their 26-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints gave them a 2-0 record for the first time since 2017.

“Yeah,’’ he deadpanned. “Facts.’’

For the record, from 1990 through 2020, teams that started 2-0 had a 62% chance of making the playoffs. It's uncertain how having a 17-game schedule with an expanded postseason format -- in 2020, the league added an additional playoff team in the AFC and NFC -- will impact those percentages.

Burns really doesn’t care. He likes what he’s seen from a defense that has 10 sacks in two games and from an offense being led by Sam Darnold, playing at what tight end Dan Arnold called a “premier level.’’

“I believe in my guys,’’ Burns said. “I’ll pick up against anybody.’’

If Panthers history is any indication, 2-0 means good things for this squad. This is the eighth time the Panthers have been here, and six of their previous seven 2-0 starts resulted in a trip to the playoffs, with 2002 being the lone exception.

The 2015 and 2003 teams made it to the Super Bowl, and the 1996 team reached the NFC title game.

And while Carolina is a long way from playing at that level heading into Thursday night’s road game against the 1-1 Houston Texans at NRG Stadium (8:20, NFL Network), the future looks much brighter now than it did a month ago.

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), the Panthers have gone from a 29% chance of being a playoff team in the preseason to an estimated 37% now.

Coach Matt Rhule will tell you the Panthers have a lot to clean up before being a playoff team. He’s right.

The coaching staff had to use two timeouts early in the first half “because we have the wrong call in or one of our players gets confused.’’ The offense hasn’t played as well in the second half of games, scoring only 12 of its 45 points after halftime.

Zane Gonzalez is their second kicker in two games, and his inability to get kickoffs through the end zone left the Panthers vulnerable to big returns on Sunday.

But Carolina is doing a lot right. Darnold has completed 50 of 73 pass attempts (68.4%) for 584 yards and three touchdowns to only one interception in two games.

The third pick of the 2018 draft completed only 59.8% of his passes in three seasons with the New York Jets and had almost as many picks as he did touchdowns.

Running back Christian McCaffrey has 324 yards from scrimmage, putting him on pace for 2,754 in 17 games. Wide receiver DJ Moore has 14 catches.

Then there’s the defense. One could argue the six-sack effort against a bad Jets team starting a rookie quarterback didn’t prove much. But to follow that up with four sacks and 11 quarterback hurries against Saints quarterback Jameis Winston a week after he dismantled the Green Bay Packers with five touchdown passes in a 38-3 victory says a lot.

You can blame the Saints’ defensive struggles on missing four starters, but the offense was down only one player from the opener.

“Starting with me, we’ve got to have a better plan with some of the stuff that we saw,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We had seen it on tape, obviously we got more of it and didn’t handle it well.’’

Winston was pressured on 18 of his 28 dropbacks (64%), the third-highest rate for any defense since ESPN began tracking pressure in 2009. When pressured, Winston was 4 of 13 for 54 yards and two interceptions and all four of his sacks.

The last time a Saints quarterback was sacked that many times, didn’t throw a touchdown and threw multiple touchdowns was in 2003.

The six first downs by New Orleans were the fewest in 15-plus seasons under Payton. The previous low was 12 in 2013.

“In all honesty, the defense had a very dominant performance for the second week in a row,’’ Burns said.

And now the Panthers likely will face Texans backup quarterback Davis Mills, a third-round pick in April, since starter Tyrod Taylor left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

Burns doesn’t care about that either.

“At the end of the day I just want to do that to every offense we play,’’ Burns continued about the two-game defensive dominance. “I don’t feel like anybody can mess with us if we do what we just did.’’