The Carolina Panthers were an unstoppable force in the 2015 season until their defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Ron Rivera’s men suffered a huge hangover from their defeat in the Vince Lombardi trophy game in the following term, missing the playoffs with a 6-10 campaign.
The Panthers struggled from the off and were never able to get into the rhythm of the previous season, with Cam Newton going from MVP to an average quarterback, putting in mediocre term.
There are no changes on the horizon for the club, but their struggles in 2016 will serve as a reminder that no team or player is perfect, and there is plenty of work ahead for Carolina to regain their footing as one of the elite sides in the NFL.
We’ll now take a look back at the last season to see what went wrong for the Panthers and what they will need to do to compete for a place in the playoffs.
The Panthers were facing a familiar foe in week of the campaign as they played their conquerors of Super Bowl – the Broncos – on the road. They took control of the match early, but the home side battled back and took the lead through CJ Anderson in the fourth quarter.
Graham Gano scored one field goal to put his side within striking distance, and although Newton engineered another drive to put him within range, the kicker sent his effort wide of the posts from 50 yards.
Carolina got off the mark on the term with a strong performance over the San Francisco 49ers, but it was not a sign of things to come as the Minnesota Vikings stifled their offense the following week to secure a 22-10 win at Bank of America Stadium.
In the off-season, the Panthers made the decision to release All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman. His absence was felt in one match more than any other as the Atlanta Falcons’ offense crushed Rivera’s side. Matt Ryan threw for 500 yards, while Julio Jones notched 300 receiving yards in a 48-33 win.
Despite putting 33 points on the board against the Falcons, Carolina’s offense sputtered against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers until Cameron Artis-Payne rushed in for two touchdowns to hand his side the lead. However, their defense crumbled in the fourth quarter to lose the match.
Their defensive frailties were again exposed by the New Orleans Saints – who raced into a 21-point lead. Newton led his side back to level the scores at 38-38 in the fourth quarter, only for Will Lutz to kick an impressive 58-yard field goal to down the Panthers, leaving them at 1-5 at their bye week.
The Panthers came out of the bye week against another familiar foe. The team that they beat to reach the Super Bowl – the Arizona Cardinals – and once again Rivera’s men were able to come out on top to beat the NFC West outfit with a strong display from Jonathan Stewart on the ground.
Carolina gave the Los Angeles Rams a tough time during their next outing, stifling their offense for the majority of the game. However, after scoring only 13 points themselves they were almost exposed late in the game, but they held out for their third win of the season.
A damaging loss to the Kansas City Chiefs signalled the end of a potential charge for the playoffs. Newton committed a late turnover to allow Andy Reid’s men back into the contest before two late field goals stunned the Panthers late on.
Rivera’s side responded with a strong performance against the Saints, although they nearly allowed Drew Brees to lead his team back late on in a 23-20 victory.
However back-to-back defeat at the hands of quality opponents in the form of the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders were to effectively end their campaign, with Newton committing further turnovers to cost his side.
Victories over the San Diego Chargers and the Washington Redskins improved their record, but their season was to end on a sour note as the Falcons turned on the power to topple them on home field.
The final game of the term ended in drama as they attempted to snatch the match in the dying seconds after scoring a late touchdown through Kelvin Benjamin, only for their two-point attempt to fail. A fitting end to a disappointing campaign!
One of the major tasks for the Panthers is to get their two best players back to form. Newton was the MVP in 2015, but regressed significantly last term. If he can get back to his best then the club will be on course for a return to the playoffs.
Worryingly on the other side of the ball – linebacker Luke Kuechly missed time with issues following a concussion. Given the 26-year-old’s position that could be a problem for the player and the team going forward.
The defense will undergo a change anyway after Sean McDermott’s move to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills, with Steve Wilks promoted in the coordinator position. The club are fortunate they do not have many key free agents, with only Kawann Short as a must to re-sign, while Mario Addison could test the open market after a 9.5 sack season.
Offensive line help is a must for the Panthers either through the draft or free agency. Andrew Whitworth, Riley Reiff, TJ Lang and Kelvin Beachem should all be considered by general manager Dave Gettelman.
Should Addison and Short depart then the club will need to bolster their defensive line. Jabaal Sheard is an intriguing option having won the Super Bowl with New England, while Calais Campbell could be a good replacement for Short in the middle of the line.
Bennie Logan, Karl Klug could represent low-cost options for the Panthers as well, while the draft could also provide the answer.
An outside shot could be for Carolina to add a running back to ease the burden on Stewart. With the eighth overall selection they could be in good position to take one of the best prospects available.
As a result of owning the eighth-overall selection the Panthers could be a solid place to take the best running back available – LSU’s Leonard Fournette. He was a star in the college game and would provide an excellent complement for Newton in the offense.
Therefore backing him at -350 with BetOnline sportsbook to be the first back selected could be a worthwhile punt.
The Panthers could also be in the market for a wide receiver. Mike Williams could be an intriguing option to pair with Kelvin Benjamin, giving Newton another target in the passing game. Backing the Clemson Tigers man to be the first wideout selected at -200 would be a wise bet to take.
A year ago Rivera’s men would have backed themselves to reach the Super Bowl once again. Their performances last year indicated a hangover and a failure to get over their loss in the title game.
However, they should be stronger for the experience of the last term and have the quality to win the NFC Conference once again – therefore back them at +1400 to be their conference’s representative in Super Bowl LII.
Leonard Fournette To Be First Running Back Selected 2017 Draft
Mike Williams To Be First Wide Receiver Selected 2017 Draft
Carolina Panthers To Win NFC Conference
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