Boom Or Bust? 2014 Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers got off to a rough beginning, when they hired Ron Rivera to be their next head coach. In his first two years in Charlotte, the Panthers finished their 2011 and 2012 seasons with disappointing (6-10) and (7-9) records. Back to back mediocre and sub-par seasons, will tend to do that to a coach. In a league where most fans expect immediate results and instant gratification, it can definitely put the pressure on to win consistently. He spent most of the 2012 off-season on the hot seat, while the media blasted his Panthers and their level of mediocrity. Fans were left wondering if he was the right choice to lead the Panthers to the post season. The 2013 season however, was a huge swing in the opposite direction.
After a (1-3) start to the year, Carolina turned on the jets mid-season and surged out to a (12-4) finish, locking up the NFC South division crown and a 1st round bye in the playoffs. Quarterback Cam Newton began showing signs of developing into the premier passer they hoped he would be. The former BCS National Champion and two time Pro-Bowler posted 3,379 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season. The most touchdown passes thrown in his NFL career. The defense was also firing on all cylinders . Defensive Player Of the Year, Luke Kuechly anchored a top-5 ranked defense heading into the playoffs. They fell however, in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers, losing (23-10). Regardless, it was a definite sign of improvement for the cats and a huge step forward. The big question is, how will the Panthers respond in 2014?
Carolina was fortunate enough to catch most of their division sleeping last year. The Falcons faced an injury plagued year that ended with a miserable (4-12) finish. Tampa endured the same results , while trying to break in a rookie QB and dealing with a flu stricken locker room at the same time. Sean Payton and The Saints were still shaking off the rust and snuck in as a wildcard. They shouldn’t expect the upcoming season to be as easy. Everybody should be healthy and ready to pose a legitimate threat to challenge Carolina. One of their biggest faux paws last year, was the offense. The Panthers just need more play-makers for Newton to throw to. Steve Smith, can still produce, but let’s face it, he’s not the same receiver he once was coming out of Utah. His age is starting to catch up with him. The same can be said for Tight End Greg Olsen, who spent most of his time with Chicago. The pieces are there but they just need a bit of youth. An already stout defense should just be getting better after this year’s draft. If the Panthers can maintain their core play-makers from a year ago, they should be able to compete for a 4th division crown and possibly more. Personally, this writer likes the direction the team is headed. I’ll say, “boom.”
2014 prediction : 11-5
Sports-Kings Down and Distance Contributor Stephn Baldetti @StephnBdettiSK