It’s almost certain this article will get railroaded by fans and a few experts as well who disagree, but after a number of predicted winners for the 2013 NFL playoffs, it’s high time to pinpoint a possible loser. That is the Carolina Panthers.
Cam Newton forced to start over without Rob Chudzinski
This is absolutely no disrespect to Mike Shula. The man deserves all the respect in the world for working in such a cutthroat league and having considerable success doing it for so long. However, he can’t change facts. Whether people want to admit it or not, the Carolina Panthers are entering the 2013 season in a new offense. Any time an offensive coordinator changes, things change with him. Oh, certainly most of the key parts of a scheme stay in place, but a host of other things such as philosophy down to playcalling alter. As proven so many times before, even the slightest alterations can have that “butterfly” effect across an entire unit. Cam Newton played the last two years under Rob Chudzinski, one of the hottest play callers in pro football. Newton was a huge beneficiary, collecting Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowl and numerous records after just two seasons. Shula on the other hand hasn’t been an offensive coordinator since 1999. Besides the obvious worries of rust, one must wonder why he didn’t claim that job again sooner. On top of that, he’s under the shadow of a defensive head coach.
Ron Rivera battling aging Steve Smith and rough schedule
One can understand why Ron Rivera drafted the way he did in April. As a former linebacker and highly respected defensive coordinator, it makes sense for him to want to run the Carolina Panthers through the defense. He has a growing cast of talent at his disposal too what with defensive ends Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and linebacker Luke Kuechley. Expectations are high for them. The problem is his blind rush to improve their interior defense with top two picks Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short may have robbed them of a chance to give Newton another weapon. It’s getting to the point where reliance on star receiver Steve Smith is no longer possible. He’s 34-years old and has built his career on speed. Outside of him Carolina has Brandon LaFell, a disappointment to say the least thus far, and the often injured David Gettis. They do still have Greg Olsen at tight end and a pair of solid running backs but the explosiveness that marked Newton’s rookie year is fading.
Toss in a rigorous division and schedule ahead of them and things just look that much more difficult. The Atlanta Falcons went 13-3 and reached the NFC championship. New Orleans still has Drew Brees and just got Sean Payton back. Tampa Bay has a brand new defense featuring a Pro Bowl-laden secondary. To top it off their collective opponents in 2013 boast a .543 winning percentage from the year before. Roughly translated that means six of their games will be against teams that went to the playoffs the year before. The rest are against teams that just missed them.
Chalk it all up, the Carolina Panthers are in big trouble.