Bob Leverone/Associated Press
Here are the facts: Ron Rivera has seen an increase in the team's win total in each year following his first season as Carolina's head coach. Last year's team broke out and won 12 games and clinched the NFC South crown before bowing out in the playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers.
This year's team may have a lot of uncertainty surrounding it, but essentially, it's no different than last year's club that shocked many by becoming division champs and locking up the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Defensively, the Panthers are in great shape and look to be stronger up front and at linebacker. Rookie defensive end Kony Ealy will support a solid rotation on the outside and could bolster the team's pass rush by teaming up with Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy on some plays when all three are on the field together. Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine and has the hardware to prove it. Thomas Davis has continued to surprise and impress.
The secondary will feature a blend of veterans and talented younger players. This year's version may be better than 2013 because of the experience and familiarity both Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud bring to the safety positions. That should give the Panthers an added edge in matchups with division rivals like the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Plus, Robert Lester and Melvin White should continue to build upon their pleasantly surprising rookie seasons and have solid sophomore years.
Offensively, the Panthers look very weak. However, one should not underestimate the potential based on who is filling in at key positions. Cam Newton is a very capable quarterback who enjoyed his best season to date last year. He could thrive in 2014 because he will have new receivers to throw to and opposing defenses will have to adjust to the new faces at wide receiver.
The offensive line worries a lot of people. Last year, the unit was rocked by injuries, but Carolina still put together a great season. Injuries aside, the current group that will make up the offensive line will be suitable enough to help the offense be competitive.
In the end, Carolina should be able to have a winning season and notch at least 10 victories.