NFC South: Carolina Panthers in the Toughest Division in the NFL
With the start of the NFL season quickly approaching, teams are still trying to figure out who will make their final roster. Every season each team has something to prove, whether it’s the ability to repeat a successful season or to improve from the prior year. The Carolina Panthers have much to prove this year as they haven’t seen the playoffs since losing in the first round to the Arizona Cardinals in 2008.
Although the Panthers finished second in the division last year, they had a 3-way tie with the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a 7-9 record. With many holes finally filled in the Panthers’ roster, it’s time for them to step it up and make the playoffs. What stands in the way of their success is the fact they are in one of the toughest divisions in the league.
The NFC South contains four teams that are easily considered for playoff contention. The Atlanta Falcons are one of the strongest teams in the NFL, and with the improvements they made in the off-season, they seem to only get stronger. Atlanta’s biggest acquisition was Steven Jackson, a power running back who ran for over 1,000 yards last season with the Saint Louis Rams. The addition of Jackson adds another weapon to Atlanta’s arsenal on offense, which led them to the conference championship game in 2012.
Tampa and New Orleans have very solid teams despite their disappointing seasons last year. With the whole bounty scandal surrounding the Saints and losing their head coach, they still played well and made it very difficult for any team to beat them. With Drew Brees as their quarterback, and the return of their head coach Sean Payton, they will always be considered a threat to anyone they play. Tampa, like the Panthers, had their struggles in the past. Last season their rookie running back Doug Martin had a fantastic season that put him in the mix for offensive rookie of the year. Also adding Vincent Jackson last season to the depth of their wide receiver core, Tampa had a difficult offensive force to contain. This season they also traded for veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis, a player considered to be one of the best at his position.
The Carolina Panthers have a strong team and a mobile quarterback in Cam Newton who seems to be filling his role as a leader. Last season they were able to sweep the Saints and almost swept the Falcons; however, they struggled against the last place Buccaneers. It seems the Panthers have a knack for showing up when considered the underdog and falling short when considered the favorite. Their secondary struggled against the precision of Brees and Matt Ryan and found it difficult to contain the speed of Martin. The Panthers first two draft picks were to improve the defensive line. If they can remain healthy, play to their potential, and put pressure on the QB’s, their defense should able to force many four and outs.
It’s fair to say each team in the NFC South division is a playoff contender. The only other divisions that will be tough to predict are the NFC North and the AFC North. The Panthers have a solid team with much to prove, including Ron Rivera who is entering his third season as head coach. If he can’t battle through the Panther’s tough division and produce a winning season, he may be in the hot seat looking for another team.