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Caulton Tudor

Panthers seeking historic season with 9-plus wins

Posted July 10

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) checks the defense. St. Louis Rams visiting the Carolina Panthers on Sunday October 20, 2013. Rams first play from scrimmage was intercepted and returned for a TD and the Panthers never looked back with a hime victory of 30-15. Photo by CHRIS BAIRD

— When the Carolina Panthers begin their season on Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay, they’ll be picked by some to win a second straight NFC South Division title.

At worst, the Panthers will be predicted a close second to New Orleans in the divisional race.

The web site OddsShark.com has the Panthers at 33-to-1 to win the Super Bowl while making the Saints (16-to-1) the NFC South favorite. The site favors Seattle (6-to-1) to repeat as NFL champs, followed by last season’s Super Bowl loser Denver (13-to-2), San Francisco (7-to-1) and New England (9-to-1).

It’s understandable that the Panthers will begin as a popular pick to go far. That’s what happens after a team goes 12-4 by winning 11 of its final 12 games.

But amid all of the preseason optimism in-and-outside the Panthers locker room, a more valid question might be, 'can they even get out of the 2014 season with so much as a winning record?'
A winning record this season might not be the cinch you assume.

After all, the Panthers have been around since 1995 and have never managed to put together two straight winning seasons.

That may sound difficult to believe, but it’s a fact.

After going 11-5 in 2005, the Panthers' 2006 record was 8-8. In 2008, the Panthers whet 12-4, followed by another 8-8 in ’09. After an 11-5 record in 2003, the ’04 team finished 7-9.

This feast-or-famine routine has been a part of the franchise’s performance personality from the very start. That ’95 team, which played home games in Clemson, went a surprising 7-9 in the NFC West. 

The next season -- 1996 -- the Panthers were the darlings of pro football, going a startling 12-4 in regular season and ousting Dallas in the playoffs before losing the conference championship on a brutally cold afternoon in Green Bay.

Picked as a Super Bowl contender in the ’97 preseason, they slipped to 7-9 and suffered a devastating 34-0 late-season loss to Denver. In 1998, the roof collapsed. A 4-12 record sent Dom Capers packing and George Seifert arriving in the head coach’s office.

Many variables

On paper, the 2014 Panthers come across as a team that should have little trouble ending its seesaw trend -- but that also can be deceiving.

In Cam Newton, they obviously have one of the most talented and imaginative quarterbacks in the game.

Running backs DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and James Stewart have been among the most productive corps in the league for years. Williams, 31, is getting somewhat old by running back standards and injuries have limited Stewart, 27, to 15-game appearances during the past two seasons. But with Tolbert, technically a fullback with tailback quickness, the running attack should be very effective again.

Beyond the immediate backfield personnel and tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers are facing more questions than almost anyone could have anticipated late last season.

Most of the wide receivers are new and the offensive interior line may turn out to be the most inexperienced in the division. Rookies Ed Kugbila and Trai Turner almost certainly will have to play a good deal and three veterans are coming off injuries and/or facing positions switches. Even Kugbila, drafted in 2013, sat out all of last season with knee trouble.

It’s hardly a secret the Panthers are built from the ground up on the basic theory of defense-first, and although the secondary has been revamped, the overall defensive picture remains impressive.

End Charles Johnson and linebacker Luke Kuechly are among the best in the business at their jobs.
Even with a top-line defense, it still can be a thin line.

During the final five or six games last season, it was virtually forgotten that Ron Rivera’s future as head coach appeared bleak at best after a 1-3 start and an ugly 22-6 loss at Arizona on Oct. 6 that came on the heels of bye week no less.

But starting with an easy win at Minnesota the following week, the schedule suddenly turned favorable, thanks in large part to surprisingly weak seasons by Atlanta and Tampa Bay (both 4-12) in the division.

The 2014 mid-season schedule almost certainly will be more difficult.

There will be a four-game October stretch -- at Cincinnati (Oct. 12), at Green Bay (Oct. 19) and back home for Seattle (Oct. 26) followed by a three-day around against New Orleans (Thursday Oct. 30) in Charlotte -- that could determine whether the Panthers have legitimately arrived or are still prowling around on the brink.

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  • uBnice Jul 13, 9:16 a.m.

    [[/quote]I don't think the Panthers will be as good as last year but you can never tell. Nobody... View More

    — Posted by rherring23

    Good analysis. And your first statement summed it all up.

  • rherring23 Jul 12, 12:02 a.m.

    [[/quote]I don't think the Panthers will be as good as last year but you can never tell. Nobody is sure how the offensive line will be with 2 rookies. May be terrible or may be the best line they have ever had, depends on the rookies, look what Luke did as a rookie. Don't know if the defense took a step back or not, but they could have probably added better players. They did make changes in the secondary which was the weak link on defense. They got burned way too much when they faced a good QB, so the changes could turn out good. Don't agree with letting Smith go, his fire will be missed. But facts are he had slowed down considerably. He still was good enough to draw the double and triple team, but that would shut him down where before he could still beat the double and triple team. He definitely needed another good receiver to take some of the pressure off him. I think some of the other receivers they lost may be just as important.

  • mittnfriends Jul 11, 10:50 p.m.

    2 more months, Cam haters, deeyam!

    As the article states; Cam is "one of the most talented and imaginative quarterbacks in the game". Cam is a blessing for a team that lacks the proper offensive weapons.

    Of course it doesn't feel right having let Smitty go, but maybe it makes sense 2 or 3 years from now. It's business.

  • rcsser Jul 11, 2:38 p.m.

    Looks like the panthers are going to have another great year! When they are pumped up by the media and fans they do horrible. When everyone thinks they are going to be really bad they usually do great. And by the way I have always been a huge Steve Smith but let's face it the only part of that man's body that still works well is his mouth. It took him all of 15 minutes at his first ravens practice to get in a scuffle.GO PANTHERS!

  • I am not who you think I am Jul 11, 11:13 a.m.

    unless Gettleman picks up a proven OT and a proven possession type WR the Panthers are toast

    The defense can't play offense too

  • robertleonard01 Jul 11, 10:11 a.m.

    James Stewart? Really? James?

  • thomasew52 Jul 11, 9:41 a.m.

    Probably going to be a long and painful year for Coach Rivera, and Panther fans.

  • uBnice Jul 11, 7:23 a.m.

    It looks as though the GM decided it would be a rebuilding year given the off-season changes. From my perspective they were bad moves.

    Now we just have to wait. But it will be inexcusable to go from a playoff team to a non-playoff team in 1 year because of personnel changes that decreased the team's ability to win.

  • StunGunn Jul 11, 6:57 a.m.

    This is going to be a tough season for the Panthers. Rivera was on the hot seat before and it will be even hotter this year. Jordan Gross and Smitty will be missed big time. I don't know what went on behind closed doors, but treating Smitty the way the Panthers did is going to come back and bite them.

  • Doc Holliday Jul 11, 6:51 a.m.

    But they have Superman....16-0

    With that D and that red zone offensive machine (19th in NFL).......okay, with that D, they have a shot.

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