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Carolina Panthers 2013 season preview

Every team across the SB Nation network are taking a look at nine questions that shape the 2013 season. Here's your preview for the Carolina Panthers.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
1. Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?

There are a lot of deserving players, but it's hard to look past defensive end Greg Hardy. He has some bizarre moments on and off the field, but Hardy's interaction with fans and desire to give the defensive front a nickname (Monsters Inc) has made him a fan-favorite.

On the field a good season for Hardy will shape his future with the Panthers. Another 10.0 sack season makes him one of the team's most important defensive players, and his contract status makes him easy to pull for.

2. If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...

The date to have circled is Nov. 18 against the New England Patriots. It's Monday Night Football in Charlotte, and the Panthers have a good chance to wear their all-black uniforms. Carolina have a history of laying eggs on national TV, but this game should be an excellent chance to see if the Panthers' defense is everything it looked like in preseason.

3. Notable veterans cut during the weekend

It was surprising to see cornerback Drayton Florence get the ax after he was positioned to be the Panthers' #1 corner, but there weren't too many shockers over the weekend. This is a young team and will play that way in 2013, hoping they can find some answers on the roster. Roster cuts were more about shedding under performing rookies and injured players, rather than getting rid of veterans.

4. Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?

Josh Norman is poised to have a breakout year. The mid-round cornerback selected a year ago struggled in pass coverage during his rookie year, but showed flashes this preseason as he amassed four interceptions across the four games. If he can play with a little more discipline, and make those game-changing plays during the regular season he'll easily cement a starting job.

5. What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?

Everything is tied to the Panthers final record, but I think there's an 80 percent chance Ron Rivera is gone at the end of the year. Anything short of a playoff berth will put his job on the line, and general manager Dave Gettleman has no loyalty to a coach he didn't hire.

6. What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?

There aren't any franchise records being threatened this year, but there's a slim chance Newton could break the single-season passing record held by Steve Beuerlein. That would mean needing to pass for over 4,436 yards -- more than his rookie season. If the Panthers find themselves unable to run the ball, and needing to turn to the pass there's a chance, but it's a slim one.

7. Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?

It starts up front with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, both of whom will get significant time as the team's premier defensive tackles. Both players showed extremely well during the preseason, and will only be limited by their conditioning and how quickly they hit the rookie wall.

Running back Kenjon Barner initially figured for 5-8 touches per game, but Jonathan Stewart's injury means he'll get ample opportunities as the backup running back until Stewart gets healthy.

8. Predict the order of finish in your division.

It will be a third-place finish for the Carolina Panthers in 2013, as the team isn't quite ready to compete with the elite of the division due to coaching issues.

Atlanta Falcons

New Orleans Saints

Carolina Panthers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

9. What do you expect your season-end record will be?

Everything hinges on the offensive line, but this team has enough raw talent to finish 9-7 this season. If the coaching staff can support the offensive talent and the defense plays up to their potential they can threaten for a wild card spot -- but playoffs in 2013 seem like an unrealistic expectation.