The Panthers rebounded from an abysmal 2010 campaign with the arrival of new head coach Ron Rivera, a new coaching staff, and Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton. Newton set a new rookie record for passing yardage in a season (4,051), as well as an NFL record with 14 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. With offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski returning, and Newton having another year in the same offensive system, the Panthers expect big things from their offense.
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On the defensive side, Carolina hopes that middle linebacker Jon Beason, defensive tackle Ron Edwards and outside linebacker Thomas Davis can return to bolster an anemic defense that was forced to play backups and youngsters most of last season.
Carolina, which already had one of the best rushing tandems in the NFL in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, added another weapon to the arsenal in Mike Tolbert, who will serve as a blocking and receiving threat out of the backfield. Defensively, the Panthers brought in safeties Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith to compete for playing time against Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin.
Linebacker Jon Beason anchors the Panthers defensive.
The Panthers took Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly in the first round, hoping that pairing him with Beason would create their version of Chicago's Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. Carolina took guard Amini Silatolu in the second round and plans to plug him into the starting lineup right away. In the fourth round, Carolina took wide receiver/punt returner Joe Adams and defensive end Frank Alexander, hoping to add punch to their special teams and pass rush. Cornerback Josh Norman was a small school standout, and punter Brad Nortman fills a need. D.J. Campbell has a shot to stick on special teams.
The Panthers must get out of the gate quickly this season, as their first four games come against each of their three divisional rivals and the Super Bowl champion Giants. With the bye week during week six, they'll have two weeks to prepare for the Cowboys. Carolina plays two consecutive road games twice this season and two consecutive home games three times.
The home finale is against the Raiders in week 15, while the season finale is on the road against the Saints in a game that could have playoff implications.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Cam Newton, quarterback. Newton was the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the year and set records for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and most passing yardage by a rookie, earning a Pro Bowl nod for his efforts.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Jon Beason, linebacker. The three-time Pro Bowler is the leader of the defense and the most versatile linebacker on the roster. The Panthers missed his leadership and talent on the field last season.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
Newton has another solid year and the defense comes to play. There were too many times last season when the defense failed to show up in crucial situations. The Panthers hope that veterans returning from injury and key rookies will make an impact on defense, and that the inexperienced players forced onto the field last season will be able to perform at a higher level due to their experience last year.