With a rookie quarterback and a resurgent offense, the Carolina Panthers improved on their dismal 2-14 season in 2010, winning six games with quarterback Cam Newton.
Can the Panthers continue their climb up the mountain of the NFC South?
Newton's electrifying play has also given new life to wide receiver Steve Smith, who was in a No Man's Land in terms of production since the departure of Jake Delhomme. The recent acquisition of former Oakland Raider Louis Murphy will be a nice acquisition to the passing game. DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart might be the quintessential backfield tandem, each averaging a productive 5.4 yards per carry in 2011.
On defense, the Panthers boast young talent at linebacker with first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly. Their corners are solid, with Chris Gamble and the well-named Captain Munnerlyn holding down the secondary.
In the wake of BountyGate (I guess we're still calling it that), the NFC South could be up for grabs. Tampa Bay is rebuilding with Greg Schiano and Atlanta's offseason was nearly stagnant while their offense is still in a sort of identity crisis. If Newton and the Panthers can hold serve in their division, the playoffs could be within their reach.
National Lead Writer Dan Levy, Senior NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller, and NFL Lead Blogger Aaron Nagler and I discuss the 2012 Panthers in our continuing "Best Case/Worst Case" team preview series. Enjoy our discussion in the video above and leave us your thoughts in the comments.