The Carolina Panthers had what can best be described as an up-and-down season in 2012, as they started 2-8 before turning things around, winning their final four games (and five of their last six contests) to salvage a 7-9 record.
After a couple of down years in 2009 and 2010 wide receiver Steve Smith continued to defy Father Time last season, with 73 receptions for 1,174 yards and four touchdowns, and he will again be the No. 1 option in Carolina’s passing game in 2013. Linebacker Luke Kuechly proved to be a building block for the Panthers’ defense right away as a rookie last season, leading the NFL in tackles (164) and tying for the team lead with two interceptions. But when it comes down to naming the Panthers’ most irreplaceable player, there is one guy that I think stands out far above everyone else.
On the heels of his record-setting rookie season in 2011, expectations surrounding quarterback Cam Newton were very high coming into last season. But he struggled early as the Panthers struggled to win games, with nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions over the first 10 games of the season along with more than 260 passing yards just twice in that span. Then, as could be expected with Carolina’s late surge, Newton averaged 264 passing yards per game from Week 12-Week 15 along with 12 total touchdowns (nine passing, three rushing) in that timeframe.
A major injury to their starting quarterback would hamper most any team around the league, but perhaps none more than the Panthers. Newton is among the most talented players in the league regardless of position, and behind him on the depth chart is a significant downgrade in skill level (Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen). Carolina’s win total this season will be a direct reflection of how Newton performs, for better or worse.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.