Ron Rivera took over the head coaching duties in Carolina in 2011, the year after the franchise finished with an abysmal 2-14 record. In his first season with the Carolina Panthers, he led the club to six wins, led by sensational rookie quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers saw a four game improvement in the win total in 2011 and competed in tight contests with the some of the elite teams in the NFL.
Rivera had a strong first season under his belt, and with Newton setting the rookie record for passing yards (Andrew Luck surpassed this record last season) and rushing yards (Robert Griffin III broke this record last season), the Panthers were considered a dark horse to make the playoffs and even compete for the NFC South title in 2012.
But as we saw, the Panthers struggled immensely through the first half of last season, winning just one of their first eight contests, eradicating any playoff aspirations. The Panthers did win their final four games to finish off the 2012 season at 7-9, but Rivera’s job was still in jeopardy at season’s end. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson seriously considered axing Rivera but vowed to give him one more year.
Needless to say, the Panthers need to have a strong season in 2013 for Rivera to maintain his coaching duties in Carolina. The problem for the Panthers is they are wedged in an NFC South division loaded with talent.
The New Orleans Saints will get head coach Sean Payton back after he was suspended for the entirety of the 2012 season for his role in the bounty scandals. The Saints ranked second in total offense without Payton last year, and their offense should be even more dynamic with their head coach returning.
The Atlanta Falcons logged the best record in the NFC last season and reached the conference title game. Matt Ryan has cemented his status as an elite quarterback, making the Falcons a Super Bowl favorite in 2013.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shored up their maligned secondary, which ranked dead last in pass defense a season ago, by acquiring All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson. The Bucs are building a strong offense with running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. If Josh Freeman excels at quarterback, then the Bucs could be a potential playoff team.
The Panthers will have their hands full with their NFC South opponents. Rivera led his club to a respectable 3-3 division record last year, but that mark may be unattainable this year given the improvement made by the rest of the NFC South. Rivera understands the need for the Panthers to succeed this year, especially since the franchise has not had a winning record since 2008.
“This is a performance-based industry, and I understand that,” Rivera said Monday, via the Winston-Salem Journal. “I understand that Mr. Richardson has to sell tickets and put people in the stands, and the only real way to do that is to win. . . . Now we have to take the next step, and I understand that. We have to get over the hump, and I get that. But I do appreciate the opportunity I have, and with the development of these players and the improvement we are showing, we are going in the right direction.”
The reality of the situation is Rivera will likely need to lead the Panthers to the playoffs to secure his job for a fourth season. The Panthers have the hardest schedule in terms of opponents winning percentage, making Rivera’s job all the more arduous. Is Ron Rivera placed an impossible coaching position? It certainly seems that way.