Carolina Panthers Can Win with Ron Rivera and Cam Newton in 2013 and Beyond

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Carolina Panthers Can Win with Ron Rivera and Cam Newton in 2013 and Beyond
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A recent article has drawn the ire of the Carolina Panthers fanbase when the writer Adam Schein presented his reasons for why the Panthers will not be able to compete in their division with Ron Rivera as head coach and Cam Newton as the team's quarterback.  While he makes some valid points, there are a few things that he has overlooked.

For starters, the Panthers at best will be dark-horse candidates for a playoff berth in 2013.  They are long shots to win the NFC South.  However, that doesn't mean they are incapable of competing against their division rivals and the top teams the league has to offer.  

There hasn't been much talk about Carolina making a playoff run from its fanbase.  Panthers fans want to see their team do well, though.

In retrospect, the team has steadily improved since 2010, when they were 2-14.  They finished 6-10 in 2011 and 7-9 last year.  The NFL is probably the only professional league where every game counts from start to finish so seeing even the slightest improvement from Carolina is a confidence builder within the organization and the fans.

True, the Panthers were not able make significant upgrades to their roster via free agency.  One cannot fault Dave Gettleman for being unable to spend money on marquee names when there was little cap room.  

Sure, Tampa Bay got a bit stronger, New Orleans will have their head coach back and Atlanta will be fielding one of the best offenses in the league.  Carolina pales in comparison.  The interesting thing is this division is tough every year.

The Panthers had their opportunities to defeat the Buccaneers last year and they should have swept the Falcons.  Many pundits will say the off-field distractions cost the Saints both games against Carolina last year.  Truth is, the Panthers have proven they can hold their own against their rivals.  

They have a lifetime winning record against Tampa and they are virtually neck and neck with New Orleans in their all-time head-to-head meetings.  Atlanta is the only team in their division who has been problematic for them.  So, while the Panthers look inferior to their rivals, they have heart and the potential to win with their current roster.

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Ron Rivera 

It's almost a certainty that Ron Rivera knows he will enter the season on the hot seat.  No Carolina coach has lasted three seasons without making a postseason appearance.  Considering the Panthers have the toughest schedule in 2013, one has to concede that a little leeway will be extended to Rivera if he finishes at 8-8.  

The Panthers have the personnel to win games.  Last year, seven of their nine losses were by a touchdown or less.  They were only dominated twice and those were by the teams led by a quarterback named Manning.

One area that Schein points out is the appointment of Mike Shula to offensive coordinator.  This move makes sense because Shula and Cam Newton are familiar with each other.  The offense shouldn't change much in its philosophy and it keeps everyone involved on the same page.

Rivera inherited a team that was a mess at the end of the 2010 season.  Carolina has been taking baby steps and while they have no playoff appearance to show for their efforts, they have done enough in his first two seasons to validate his position as head coach.  As the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day."

Cam Newton Will Get Better

The harshest criticism from Schein's article is his observation of Cam Newton's play.  Yes, he has done some questionable things in the past year but he is young.  The ill-timed celebrations and his press conference comments have left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths, but he is a team player.

Newton still needs to grow up. That's a problem.

Schein has a point here.  Couple that with the fact Newton has yet to be voted a captain and it's understandable.  However, there are veterans in this league who have yet to grow up.  Newton stays out of trouble and has never been a problem in the locker room.  The Panthers have embraced him as the future of the team and face of the franchise.  Otherwise, why draft him No. 1 overall?

Contrary to what Schein believes, Newton can be focused enough to beat the division rivals.  It's almost mind blowing that he even suggests Newton isn't good enough or up to the task.

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Newton will get better as his career progresses.  Granted, his touchdown total was well short of his rookie season mark, but he did cut down on his turnovers.  Plus, he gives Carolina a chance to win whenever he is on the field.  

While he was at fault for a couple of losses in 2012, the game of football is a team sport and many of those close games were lost because the defense couldn't hold.  That won't be a problem in 2013 as the defensive line has been dramatically improved.

The Panthers will win because they will have Newton leading an offense that is two years removed as a top five unit and is still very dangerous.  They will win because their defense will feature a strong defensive front featuring two great pass rushers off the edge and a great group of linebackers.

Carolina may be a work in progress but in the meantime, they are staying competitive.  The day will come when they reach the playoffs and rest assured that Ron Rivera and Cam Newton will both be the reason for it.

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