I wanted to address what seems to be a pervasive feeling about the 2013 Panthers that I've read in a multitude of comments (many were rec'd comments). No, the Panthers did not "overachieve" their 2013 potential. Before the season, looking at the schedule, I had us going at least 10-6 with a ceiling at 13-3. I settled my prediction at 11-5 because it's the NFL, and we ended up going 12-4. That doesn't seem like an overachievement and I've laid out in bullet points why:
- The Panthers had the #2 defense in the NFL. This was not luck. Our front 7 is one of the most fearsome in the NFL. So fearsome, in fact, that we took a hodgepodge group of DBs (UDFAs and castoffs alike) and turned them into the #6 ranked pass defense in the league. Yes, our offense was weak (ahem Shula), but it's easy to win games when you only have to score 14 points.
- The Panthers swept the Falcons and Bucs. If you remember back to 2012, this should not be a surprise. We had ATL beat until the last moments and we should have won the Bucs game in 2012 also. That falcons team we dominated was healthy that year. Remember, in 2012 we lost an NFL-high 7 games by 6 points or less.
- We should have beaten Seattle in the season opener. If Deangelo doesn't fumble the ball on their 8 yard line we win that game.
- We also should have beaten Buffalo. Even with Mario Williams we were a blown Josh Norman assignment away. And Josh Norman? The Panthers corrected that mistake and didn't play him for the rest of the year.
- No one can run on us. With the two DTs we drafted and great LBs the run was no longer much of a threat (minus a few hiccups). This forced teams to throw on us. When the other team only has a single threat attack it makes it much easier to defend. It further makes it easier when your team can consistently get pressure rushing only 4.
- Our offense consisted of a conservative rushing attack and a reliance on the playmaker Cam Newton. So we had a pedestrian offense but with the ability to score points combined with a dominant defense. This sounds a lot like Seattle to me. They just won the Super Bowl.
I also wanted to comment on the draft and our outlook moving forward. I think Kelvin Benjamin was an enormous risk to take with our 1st round pick. To me right now he's a big, slow receiver with brick hands. I'm really praying he proves me wrong and becomes great. It's just interesting that we would pass up on alshon Jeffrey a couple years ago in the second round and then draft a similar but slower receiver in the first. I think our best pick was Trai Turner OG from LSU. With his addition, we now have solid starters for 4/5 line positions. I'm assuming they have something in mind for the other OT position from other teams' cuts or Eric Winston might be possible. I think Ealy will have been worth it if he can replace the production of either Johnson or Hardy depending on which one we get rid of at the end of the year.
I still don't understand why we got rid of Steve Smith. We only saved $2 million. Let me know if you can find a receiver as good for that little. I haven't heard of one. He should be coming out of the slot this year, now he just improved the ravens offense. I think Gettleman just didn't like his attitude. Gettleman also contributed to Jordan Gross' early retirement IMO (see his retirement speech). This is why I do not subscribe to the "in Gettleman we trust" motto. I just hope it doesn't end up being "with Gettleman we bust."
So, as for 2014, I see us going 10-6 even with questions on the o-line. The reason for this is our defense, which I think may have GOTTEN BETTER. New Orleans may win the NFC South, but I think the Panthers will be playoff bound once again.
Keep Pounding, Carolina.