Sometimes a win-loss record can be quite deceiving – the 2014 Carolina Panthers are a perfect example of how that occasionally happens. Despite finishing 7-8-1 last year, the Panthers actually won six straight to end the regular season and carried that momentum to upset the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Wild Card Round.
Even though the team lost to the eventual NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, the Panthers showed progress with quarterback Cam Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart having a bounce back season after multiple seasons riddled with injuries. With the recent additions through free agency and the NFL Draft, there is optimism the Panthers might win the NFC South – but this time with a record above the .500 mark.
Graphic via atlanta falcons
Carolina started with nine picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, but traded four of them to move up to picks in the second and fourth rounds that helped pick up players they were hoping to get – yet their best player from the draft may have come in the form of Washington Husky linebacker Shaq Thompson with the 25th overall pick.
Thompson showed his versatility during his junior season not only as a linebacker with 81 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown, but also spent some time at running back – rushing for an average of per carry for and two touchdowns. Carolina also drafted Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess to provide another aerial weapon to go along with Kelvin Benjamin for quarterback Cam Newton.
What might also help with the offense is having good offensive linemen. The Panthers drafted Daryl Williams from Oklahoma to help provide more time for Newton to find his weapons down the field. Other draft picks came from the fifth round – Texas State linebacker David Mayo and Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne.
With the need to protect the dual-threat quarterback that Newton is, a successful team needs to have a strong offensive line. This led to Carolina signing offensive tackle Michael Oher, who spent the last seven seasons helping anchor the Baltimore Ravens line with 91 games started (missing only five games in 2014).
Even with having wide receivers like Benjamin and drafting Funchess, the Panthers signed Ted Ginn, Jr. who spent nine years with the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and a 2013 stint with the Panthers. While having 11 career receiving and two rushing touchdowns, Ginn also has seven career kick and punt return touchdowns.
The Panthers may have also found another wide receiver threat in Jarrett Boykin. While he was not on the field often for the Green Bay Packers in 2014 due to a reoccurring groin injury, the Panthers must have seen his performance from 2013 worthy of a signing – 49 receptions for and three touchdowns.
After the loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Division Round, head coach Ron Rivera made the statement that there would be no changes within the Panthers’ coaching staff – a big reason was the ability to win those final six regular season games, to win the NFC South, and defeat the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card Round.
A few months later, the Panthers would make some promotions within the staff – like having Steve Wilks go from the secondary coach and pass defense coordinator to become the assistant head coach under Ron Rivera. Cam Turner also took over as the assistant wide receivers coach with the departure of Lance Taylor.
Bruce DeHaven – who has a history of coaching special teams in the NFL since 1999 – would become Carolina’s special teams’ coordinator after being the assistant since 2013. Other than that, the team ‘s coaching staff stayed the same – which should help build on the success from the end of last year’s regular season.
The Panthers have an interesting mix of teams they’ll test themselves against, including two AFC East teams who missed the playoffs – Carolina will visit the Buffalo Bills on August 14 before hosting the Miami Dolphins on August 22 at Bank of America Stadium.
On August 28, the Panthers will host the New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl Champions – which will provide a really good tune-up for several starters and young players working to earn their place for that week one roster. Carolina then travels to Heinz Field on September 3 to face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the final preseason matchup.
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