Know your foe, part 1: Carolina Panthers

Yes, we all know our division rivals, but I thought I'd give us an early look at their off-season moves and take a look at whether they've gotten better or worse.



I've started with the division winners from last year. So, let's begin by looking at how they rated at the end of the 2013 season. With a 12-4 record, they earned the #2 seed in the playoffs, but promptly lost to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 23-10. Their offense was ranked 18th in scoring and 26th in yards gained. Their rushing offense was significantly better than their passing offense (29th in yards gained), bolstered as always by Cam Newton's mobility and athleticism. Defensively, the Panthers were top notch and rated 2nd in both points allowed and yards allowed. They finished just ahead of the Bucs with a +11 turnover differential.

Off-season losses: WRs were hit hard this off-season. The team released long-time starter Steve Smith, then lost Brandon LaFell to free agency. According to Ourlads, both were atop the depth chart in Dec. 2013. Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon were also free agency casualties and listed as the #3 and #4 WRs. The team also lost starting LT Jordan Gross to retirement, CB Captain Munnerlyn & FS Mike Mitchell to free agency and backup G Hangartner retired.

Off-season additions: (non-draft) Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Tiquan Underwood were signed to compete for starting spots at WR. S Roman Harper and CB Antoine Cason were added to replace Munnerlyn and Mitchell. Thomas DeCoud might also compete for a starting Safety spot and TE Ed Dickson might get time in 2 TE sets along-side Greg Olsen.

Draft: Kelvin Benjamin was added to fill a huge void at WR. And he is huge, at 6'5" and 240# is the Panthers version of our own Mike Evans. Benjamin doesn't seem to have as consistent hands as Evans, but will still be a matchup nightmare. Round 2 saw DE Kony Ealy added to an already fierce defense. Where he fits in with Hardy and Johnson, I'm not sure, but Hardy may become a FA next year and Ealy could be his early replacement. OG Trai Turner in the 3rd round replaces depth lost with Hangartner, but still leaves a void at LT when Gross retired.

Overview: My thought is that the Panthers have lost more than they gained this off-season and are putting a heck of a lot of pressure on Newton to get it done all by himself. Their top-notched defense should keep them in games. Depth on offense might be as big an issue as anything, with a revamped O-line and no real stand-out #1 WR (other than possibly rookie Benjamin). I see the Panthers falling hard this year and possibly going from first to worst. What say you Bucs Nation?

EDIT: In order to get as many responses to all polls as possible, links to others are here. Atlanta and New Orleans

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