Inevitably the first question everyone asks during the offseason is: “What will it take for the Panthers to repeat as NFC South champions and continue to the Super Bowl?” For a question that is very open ended and riddled with stipulations, the Panthers aren’t as far off as it would seem.
Finishing on top of the NFC South, albeit with a 7-8-1 record, they are still the best in the division. The Panthers have a top five defense anchored by Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Roman Harper. Cam Newton leads a young and hungry offense with Kelvin Benjamin, rookie Devin Funchess and tight end Greg Olsen. What does this team lack? What has been holding them back? In the 6 games where the Panthers played 2014 playoff teams they went 1-4-1, winning against the Lions at home, tying with the Bengals and losing to the Steelers, Ravens , Packers and Seahawks.
The next hurdle is what separates good teams from great teams: being able to beat the better teams in the NFL on a consistent basis. Cam is poised to have a great year, young weapons and a returning defense to help keep him on the field to score points. Now it’s up to the ENTIRE team, not just Cam, to perform when it counts. In the games mentioned previously, the Panther’s defense was tested and weaknesses were revealed. Whether it was competing against elite receivers like Antonio Brown, complete and efficient teams like the Ravens (who completed four 80-yard drives against them in Week 4) or teams with the best players in the league on their roster like Marshawn Lynch in Seattle and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The best teams will learn to exploit your weaknesses and the Panthers can and will learn to do the same.
With a quick look at the upcoming schedule, nine to eleven wins is not that farfetched of a goal. The meat and deciding section of their season will start Week 5 against Seattle on the road and continue against the Eagles, Colts and Packers at HOME. The opportunity presented to the Panthers is one that doesn’t come often. Winning those games will position them for a top seed in the playoffs and have their confidence riding high when it counts.
By Daniel Wesson