Since winning a franchise-record 12 games in 2008, including an 8-0 mark at home, the Carolina Panthers have failed to make the playoffs. They’ve drafted some talented players (i.e., quarterback Cam Newton in 2011) and brought in new coaches (i.e., head coach Ron Rivera in 2011). Heck, they’ve even changed their logo (the layout of the colors on the Panther was altered prior to last season).
None of that has resulted in another trip to the postseason, though, which is something the Panthers have been seeking since Jake Delhomme‘s six-turnover debacle led to a 33-13 loss at the hands the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional round of the 2008 playoffs.
After posting a combined record of 23-41 over the past four seasons, including a 13-19 mark with the likes of Newton and Rivera, it is quite clear that the time is now for the Panthers to make that next step. Rivera has been on the hot seat plenty of times during his two-year stay in Carolina, so it is absolutely imperative that he guides the squad to a quick start in 2013.
The Panthers struggled at the beginning of the 2011 season before getting hot down the stretch and failed to meet high expectations by losing a lot of games during the early part of the 2012 campaign before winning five of their final six games, so they obviously haven’t figured out how to come out of the gates fast under their new regime.
Even higher expectations face the Panthers this season, and the best-case scenario is that they actually live up to them this time. If everyone stays healthy — especially a linebacking corps that includes injury-prone veterans Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and a stable of running backs led by oft-injured rushers Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams — and Newton returns to the form he displayed in his record-breaking rookie season, Carolina is capable of reaching double digits in wins and perhaps even winning its division.
The Panthers should have one of the top defenses in the NFL — led by one of the league’s youngest and most talented front sevens — but rejuvenated 34-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith, who has been very productive since Newton came on board, and 26-year-old wideout Brandon LaFell, who came into his own in his first year as a starter last season, along with 28-year-old tight end Greg Olsen, will help the team put up plenty of points if properly utilized.
Then again, the Panthers could also face their worse case scenario, which would be, quite simply, more of the same. More injuries, more bad performances and more losses.
If that happens, Rivera will probably be gone, Carolina’s young QB will probably face more scrutiny and the team will definitely be looked at as a disappointment once again.
It’s all up to the Panthers, who have two preseason games left before they host the Seattle Seahawks to begin the 2013 season on Sept. 8.
Will the ‘Cats roar — or simply meow?