SCOREBOARD 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 PLAYOFF FINISH DIV - - - - REGULAR SEASON W-L 12-4 7-9 6-10 2-14 8-8 POINTS PER GAME 22.9 22.3 25.4 12.2 19.7 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME 15.1 22.7 26.8 25.5 19.2 YARDS PER GAME 316.8 360.7 389.8 258.4 331.1 YARDS ALLOWED PER GAME 301.3 333.1 377.6 335.9 315.8 TURNOVERS 19 22 23 37 31 TAKEAWAYS 30 23 24 29 37 Key Additions: WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Jason Avant, CB Antoine Cason, WR Jerricho Cotchery, S Thomas DeCoud, TE Ed Dickson, S Roman Harper, TE Mike McNeill, DT Drake Nevis, OG Trai Turner, WR Tiquan Underwood, QB Joe Webb Key Subtractions: WR Steve Smith, OT Jordan Gross, C Jeff Byers, CB Drayton Florence, WR Ted Ginn, G Geoff Hangartner, TE Ben Hartsock, WR Brandon LaFell, S Quintin Mikell, S Mike Mitchell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, G Travelle Wharton Rookies: WR Kelvin Benjamin, DE Kony Ealy, OG Trai Turner, S Tre Boston, , CB Bene Benwikere, RB Tyler Gaffney, WR Corey Brown, OLB/S Denicos Allen ELSA/GETTY IMAGES SPORT allowed only four teams to rush for better than 100 yards. Carolina’s defense led the NFL with 60 sacks and ranked second in total defense (301.2 ypg), rushing defense (86.9) and points allowed (15.1). They were no slouch against the pass, either finishing sixth (214.3 ypg). The push starts up front with ends Greg Hardy (15 sacks) and Charles Johnson (11). The duo was the only pair of ends in the NFL with double-digit sacks. Inside, Star Lotulelei was outstanding against the run as a rookie (42 tackles, 31 solo, 3.0 sacks), as was 11-year veteran Dwan Edwards, when he was healthy enough to get on the field. But there is a potentially big problem hanging over the unit. That is the cloud hanging over Hardy from his offseason arrest. Carolina is also well-stocked at linebacker, led by middle linebacker and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly (156, 93) and strong side linebacker Thomas Davis (123, 85). There are new faces in the backfield, which must replace the loss of its top three tacklers last season in corner Captain Munnerlyn, safety Mike Mitchell and strong safety Quintin Mikell, who tied for the team lead with two picks. The Panthers went within the division to find help and hope they’ve fixed things with the additions of veteran safety Thomas DeCoud, who played his first six season in Atlanta, and Roman Harper, who played his first eight years with the Saints and will battle 2013 starter Robert Lester at strong safety. Defensive Player to Watch The Panthers’ first-round pick in 2012 (ninth overall) out of Boston College, Luke Kuechly has been a big hit (and a big hitter) since he arrived in Charlotte. He was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year then followed that up by being named 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. Heading into year three, Kuechly is anything but satisfied. The Panthers’ leading tackler each of his first two seasons, with 199 in two years, Kuechly stepped up, doubling his sack total in 2013 (2.0) and interceptions (four, tied for the team lead). He’ll be counted on to continue to anchor the defense in the middle. Already the heart and soul of the team on the field, he’ll also be counted on as a leader in the locker room. Panthers Special Teams Kicker Graham Gano was rewarded by the Panthers with a three-year deal following a 2013 season in which he was one of the best in the business. Gano not only was accurate, but he showed a strong leg on kickoffs. Punter Brad Nortman, who doubles as holder on field goal attempts, also had a superb season, averaging 47.8 yards per punt (second in the NFC), with a 41.6 net (third), while effectively pinning opponents back, putting 25 of his 70 punts inside the 20. Prediction There’s never been a repeat Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy champion in the NFC South since its inception in 2002. Carolina will continue that streak. Eight times the previous year’s champ has fallen to third but never has one gone first to worst. Carolina may be the first as last season’s formula of stubborn defense, just enough offense, and “Riverboat” Ron Rivera’s hot streak rolling the dice simply won’t hold up.
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