The NFL season never really ends, but there aren’t always a lot of huge stories to talk about, either.
Invariably, one of the biggest talking points is examining the teams that will either repeat their success from the season prior or take a step backward. Given the parity in the modern NFL, almost anything is possible.
But there are also several teams on the rise, grouped together as “sleepers” or “possible playoff contenders.”
By this point, Carolina Panthers fans should be used to that discussion. Considering their late-season success in 2012 and the offseason general manager Dave Gettleman put together, it’s hard to not put the Panthers in that category.
Of course, it also helps to have a budding superstar under center.
Last year’s early-season failures were pinned on Cam Newton as much as any player or coach in the organization. Some called it a sophomore slump and others questioned Newton’s maturity and leadership abilities. Whatever the case, things weren’t going well.
Carolina started the season 2-8, the first part of that stint (1-5) resulting in the exit of former general manager Marty Hurney. For a team with so much talent, the Panthers appeared headed for another abysmal season.
But Newton busted out of his early-season slump to lead the Panthers to wins in each of their last four contests, finishing the season 7-9 and in second place in the NFC South.
What the second half of last season proved is this: If Carolina can find its form in the early going this year, the sky really is the limit.
Gettleman made some big decisions this offseason to perpetuate that progress, starting with perhaps the biggest non-change in the retention of head coach Ron Rivera. Teams are often quick to shake things up at the top following a poor season, but even with a new shot-caller in house, the Panthers decided to keep Rivera in the head coaching position.
With continuity at the team's two most important positions (head coach and quarterback), the Panthers are in position to build off their 2012 second-half success with a strong 2013 campaign.
Carolina didn’t lose much this offseason, and Gettleman went to work on signing a bevy of complementary players to boost his team’s offense, including wide receivers Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. Along with some additions to the defense and a solid draft class, Carolina made some big strides in preparation for the coming season.
We’ll take a closer look at those free-agent additions, as well as the team’s 2013 draft class and some positions to watch as the season draws near.