Carolina Panthers: Kings of the Jungle or just pussy cats?

As the first game of the season approaches, last seasons darlings of the NFL, sometimes brilliant, sometimes controversial, always entertaining, host the team that beat them in SB50, the Denver Broncos, only the second team to defeat them last year. The Panthers nearly made it a 16-0 regular season, but were out game planned by the Falcons.

The NFC South division champions, the NFC Champions, they are the last team I am looking at before the 2016 season kicks-off in earnest. I joked that really all I need to say is, they won’t miss Josh Norman, they are still as good as last year, maybe better, they have Rob Riviera, Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, enough said. Obviously there is a bit more to it than that, but certainly under 1000 words.

It cannot be under estimated how key those three names are to the success of the Panthers: Cam, Luke and Rob. The Panthers invested early with Cam and perservered even after a sophomore slump and a few years to get back to his best, his best being last year. Cam makes it so difficult to play against as he has that nuance to change a play post-snap and the defense can’t do sod all. He now can carry the team, we don’t see the head drop of a few years ago, he steps up and delivers. Like wise on defense they have someone who can carry the team in Luke Kuechly. He can read offenses and seems to help bring the best out of the others. His physicality combined with his quick reading reactions makes him the most formidable linebacker in the league. Why he was clearly our number one. And Rob Riviera helps spins these discs, bringing out the best when needed and making game plans that can unpick the best teams, make otherwise mediocre players look brilliant.

Firstly, there were not so many needs to fill. Letting Josh Norman go to Washington was not necessarily a loss, but it did mark quite an interesting free agency and off-season for the Panthers and actually trying to keep track of who they signed and kept or promptly released is a challenge. Charles Tillman retiring was probably the heavier loss to their secondary and their defensive back group, however he has been working with the rookies during training camp for at least three days, so his influence may still be felt. They still have Bene Benwikere, who looked good last year and is expected to shine this year, and Robert McClain. In the draft they picked up three successive cornerbacks, with second round pick James Bradberry and third round pick Daryl Worley expected to see regular season game time, with both touted as possibly starting the first game of the season. Kurt Coleman is a great work horse and had a good season, yes maybe not breaking up as many passes as Josh Norman but he did lead the team in interceptions.

Even with their first pick in the draft, the Panthers added to their defensive front picking up Vernon Butler as a back up to Kwann Short. And possibly the best move of the off-season? Well releasing Charles Johnson and then re-signing him on a cheaper one year contract was brilliant and set them up for some good cap space management. Also in this┬ástacked front seven, expect big things from Kony Ealy in his second season, and Lotulelei backed up by Soliai complete a rather tidy front four. The linebacking corps? Well they’re alright I suppose. You know Shaq Thompson, Thomas Davis and oh yeah Luke Keuchly (a sack and pass breaking machine). And they have depth which will keep them in games.

It was hard to try and keep the defense short and sweet as it really is one of the strengths of the Panthers. The other is how Cam Newton grew last season and really became the quarterback we saw the potential he could be in 2011. He still has more to give and a high ceiling. We can go on about how Cam really epitomizes what a mobile quarterback can do, how it makes it so difficult to defend against him. Cam at times did carry that team and that offense especially. He now has star receiver Kelvin Benjamin back, hopefully we will see him back to how he looked in 2014 and exceed that seasons performance. If Jonathan Stewart stays healthy then along with Greg Olsen that is some potent receiving and rushing offence there. Along with the red zone threats that Ted Ginn Jr. and Mike Tolbert offer along with depth at receiver that worked well last season in Devin Funchess and Corey Brown, it really is hard to see whether the Panthers have lost a step. The only weakness is possibly the quality in depth on that offence. It is good and coped last season but at times it was possible to see that Kelvin Benjamin was missed. That weakness in quality depth in some positions in the offence is visible.

The o-line did do a good job last season, it will be interesting to see if Michael Oher can improve a bit more to be worth the 3 year extension he was given.

Overall I would say it is hard to find serious weaknesses on this team, yes some teams have maybe better players in certain positions but the Panthers really showed last year that they worked very well as a unit. Signs are this will continue.

The other teams in the NFC South have improved, but I don’t see them having improved enough to challenge the Panthers dominance of the division. The end record may read 14-2 or 13-3 but it could well be a better looking season for the Panthers, they should easily make the post-season and I reckon the Championship game. I am not so sure they make the Superbowl, if they do, I think they would win it.

There you go a short sweet summary in sub 1000 words.