A year removed from their first playoff berth since 2008, I see the Panthers missing the post season in 2014. While whether or not they will be the worst team in the NFC South is highly debatable, I don’t think this Panthers squad is anywhere close to being on par with the Saints or the Falcons.
Every team in the NFC South improved significantly, except for the Panthers. The roster subtractions far outweigh the minor additions. In order for the Panthers to be successful in 2014, Cam Newton will have to have an MVP type season. We’ll start on the offensive side of the ball. Last year the Panthers offense finished 26th in the league, and they’ve gotten a lot worse during the off season.
Yes, Cam Newton took a big step forward in 2013, but he also had the security blanket of Steve Smith. Newton has never played a season without Smith, and the fiery veteran who now plays for Baltimore acted as a mentor for the former Auburn Tiger. Newton not only lost Smith, but he also lost Tedd Ginn Jr, Domenik Hixon, and Brandon LaFell, who weren’t outstanding, but they got the job done for the most part.
His receiving core has dwindled down to inexperienced rookie Kelvin Benjamin, Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood. Cotchery and Avant have sure hands, but neither necessarily strike fear into the eyes of a defense. None of those receivers command double coverage, and only one of those receivers has eclipsed 1,000 yards, that being Cotchery. Underwodd, Avant and Benjamin haven’t achieved a modicum of substantial success in the NFL. Not exactly world beaters. Greg Olsen is still a solid tight end, a tight end won’t change a game plan significantly unless they have the last name Graham, Gronkowski or Davis.
Last year I wrote an article that’s main point was that Newton couldn’t do everything for Carolina. That point still stands. While Newton’s signature pose suggests he’s super human, he’s far from being a top five quarterback in this league that can make the talent around him look better. Not quite Peyton Manning yet.
Add in the fact that DeAngelo Williams is only getting older, and it’s hard to imagine the Panthers offense being too effective. Jonathan Stewart can’t seem to stay healthy, and even when he is, he’s not terribly impressive.
The Panthers will struggle in 2014. It’ll be tough for them to do anything but regress from their 12-4 performance last year. In an NFC conference that has a bevy of talented teams, the Panthers will have to fight to finish above .500, let alone a playoff spot.
The offensive line also took a hit when they lost Jordan Gross to retirement. The young, unproven offensive line is bound to make mistakes, and if they can’t protect Newton they can’t win games. The Panthers put up a surplus of points behind the aging legs of Williams and the occasional Cam Newton scramble.
On the defensive side of the ball, a looming suspension for Greg Hardy hurts the defensive line immensely. Hardy is an absolute difference maker when he’s on the field, but when he’s not playing the defense will suffer.
Yes, Thomas Davis and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly are still part of the defense, but two players won’t be enough. The Panthers lost Jon Beason to the Giants, and while he was expendable in Carolina, the linebacking group would’ve benefited from Beason’s presence. Kuechly and Davis will make the defense respectable, but they can’t cover receivers as part of the secondary.
The rag-tag group of defensive backs mainly consists of Antoine Cason, Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud and Melvin White. While Harper and DeCoud are established vets, they’re not top tier safeties and they likely never will be. The secondary lost Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn, which leaves the defensive backfield in worse shape than it already was. A lack of significant depth hurts this unit as well.
In a division with threats like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Graham, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Mike Evans, and Vincent Jackson, the Panthers secondary needs to be able to match up, otherwise they’ll get torched again and again. I look at the Panthers secondary, and I don’t see a single defensive back that can cover any of the other NFC South team’s starting receivers. The Carolina secondary will likely be unable to play a lot of man coverage in 2014.
The Panthers will struggle in 2014. It’ll be tough for them to do anything but regress from their 12-4 performance last year. In an NFC conference that has a bevy of talented teams, the Panthers will have to fight to finish above .500, let alone a playoff spot. A tough schedule works against Carolina as well. Games against the tough AFC North and NFC North will take a toll on Carolina.
I don’t think the Panthers will finish as the absolute worst team in the NFC by any means, but I think a consecutive playoff appearance is wishful thinking for the good people of North Cackalacky. Their record will range from 5-11 to 8-8, but I think something special would have to occur for Carolina to reach the playoffs.