2013 Record: 12-4
Cam Newton is sick of all the losing. After a 3-9 start to the season, his morale definitely wore down. But four straight wins at the end of 2012 have the Panthers in a slightly better frame of mind heading into 2013. Newton cut back on the interceptions from 17 in 2011 to 12 last season. As he can learn from Michael Vick, mobile quarterbacks need to be very careful with the football. Newton rushed for 741 yards and eight touchdowns, making him the leading rusher ahead of DeAngelo Williams (737 yards, five touchdowns). Interestingly, Mike Tolbert was the definition of a goal-line back, scoring seven touchdowns with only 183 yards. Steve Smith’s career has been reinvigorated by Newton’s frequent targeting of him the last two years, which gives you a small yet explosive weapon. Brandon LaFell has also turned into quite the big-play receiver (15.6 yards per reception). Ted Ginn, Jr. was added to the mix in the offseason as well for more depth. Tight end Greg Olsen (69 receptions, 843 yards) is one of the most underrated tight ends in the league, an offensive beast. All in all, the Panthers are very strong offensively and fun to watch.
The overpriced Carolina defense took a good share of the blame for their bad start last year, but they really didn’t play like a 3-9 team at all. Jon Beason has missed a ton of time to injury the last two seasons but is a top linebacker in the league who put up triple-digit tackle totals every year. Speaking of top linebackers, rookie Luke Kuechly recorded a league-leading 165 tackles after being drafted in the first round just that year. The cornerbacks are not the team’s strength in Drayton Florence and Josh Norman, but up front there in good shape on the right side getting pressure on the quarterback from Star Lotulelei and Charles Johnson. Charles Godfrey at free safety is the star of the secondary. The question with these Panthers again is whether the offense can keep up with what the defense allows. And you can bet Newton will do his best at that to get to his first postseason. Don’t miss the electric Newton at Bank of America Stadium!