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The Panthers 2012 season was a tale of two halves. They started 2-6 and questions about Cam Newton's attitude and leadership ability abounded, but they rebounded in the second half to win five of their last six to finish 7-9. Newton looked much better later in the season and the Panthers should be able to build on their strong finish. Statistically Newton's 2012 season was similar to his rookie year, and he will need to be more consistent in 2013 if the Panthers are going to improve. He has all the tools to be a fantastic pocket passer, plus he's an extremely talented runner. Newton is not Michael Vick, he is a legitimate quarterback who scrambles as a second option. With all of the QB talent that came into the league last year, Newton was forgotten to an extent, but he is still among the best young QBs in the game. The Panthers' receiving corps isn't great, but Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and Brandon LaFellare viable options. Wait, I just tried to tell you Brandon LaFell was good at football, I'm really sorry. The other two are actually good, I promise. Plus Greg Olsen made this rap at Miami (listen to the first few seconds, but his part starts around 6:08). And while Carolina's running backs certainly haven't lived up to their contracts, Newton's running ability is enough to keep the defense on its toes. I expect him to make big strides in his third season: I don't think 4300yds passing, 800yds rushing, and 35 combined TDs is unrealistic, and if that is the case the Panthers will be in good shape on offense.
On defense, two players will be key for the Panthers this season. Jon Beasonwas one of--if not the--best linebackers in the game just a few years ago, and he will attempt to return to form after an injury-riddled 2012 season. If he can do that, it will provide Carolina's defense with a huge boost. Additionally, first round pick Star Lotulelei has the potential to be a huge steal for the Panthers. Lotulelei was considered a contender to be the top pick in the draft before a heart issue prevented him from working out at the combine and caused him to slip to number twelve. With the health issue behind him, it will be interesting to see if the DT can fulfill his potential and provide Carolina with a huge run stopper in the middle. Ron Riveria is a tremendous defensive coach, and I expect the Panther's D to improve and possibly crack the top six or seven in the league in 2013.
The NFC South is going to be a much improved division in 2013. The Falcons are among the best teams in the league, and the Saints and Bucs should both be much stronger than they were last year. That being said, when the Panthers lost last year, they barely lost. They were an awful (and unlucky) 1-7 in games decided by one touchdown or less, meaning improvements can definitely be expected this season record wise. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league to go along with a strong defense, and I firmly believe they will make a push for the postseason this year. Over/Under: 9.5 wins