With the Carolina Panthers’ division championship in 2013, all of the NFC South Division teams now have 3 titles each. In fact, since its creation in 2002, there has never been a repeat regular season champion. Could 2014 be the year that the Panthers pull off the first back-to-back feat in history? The current pattern may say no, but a well-rounded Carolina roster could provide a pretty convincing argument. Still, if Carolina is going to stand a chance to once again fend off their improving division rivals, it’s all going to come down to the performance of one man.
The overall success of the team undoubtedly lies on the shoulders of their 6’5”, 245-pound “Superman” quarterback, Cam Newton. Now entering his fourth year in the league following his Heisman campaign at Auburn, it should be clear to everyone in Charlotte who the leader on this team is. There’s no doubt that Carolina’s offense has always been Cam’s to run since his arrival as the #1 overall draft pick in 2011. However, it was 10 years prior that former veteran team leader Steve Smith arrived in Carolina. Now, with the longtime Panther wide receiver’s move up north to Baltimore, it’s time for Newton to emerge as the franchise’s true offensive star.
While the 25-year-old Newton’s passing yards may have decreased in each of his years under center, 2013 did include career highs in completion percentage, touchdowns, and quarterback rating. Perhaps even more importantly, he only fumbled the ball once while rushing for 500 yards. His 6 rushing touchdowns also happened to lead the team. Perhaps the only statistic that truly matters though is Newton’s win/loss record, which currently stands at 25-24, including 0-1 in the playoffs. Newton is arguably the most exciting dual-threat quarterback in the league but the pressure will now quickly be mounting to notch that first playoff win and eventually take the Panthers back to a Super Bowl. It’s a place the franchise hasn’t been since their only appearance back in 2004, where they were defeated by the New England Patriots.
In order to make such a postseason run Cam will have to stay healthy. Although he hasn’t missed a start to this point in his career, Newton did undergo surgery in a procedure to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle back on March 19th. Originally he was supposed to be out until mid-July, but head coach Ron Rivera has now stated that he wouldn’t rule out the QB participating in the upcoming June 16-19 minicamp. It might be important for the Panthers to get Newton back quickly. It will be essential for him to begin to gel with a brand new receiving corps consisting of first round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State and newly signed free agents Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, and Tiquan Underwood.
Newton has almost done it all in his short 3 years in the NFL so far. He’s already begun to shatter the record books and has been named a two-time Pro Bowler and NFL Rookie of the Year. He’s expectedly risen to NFL superstardom, as evidenced by his current position in the finals of the Madden ’15 cover vote against widely-known Seattle Seahawks cornerback, Richard Sherman. Supported by one of the league’s best defenses led by 2013 NFC Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Kuechly, the burden is now on him, and him only, to deliver the postseason glory that Carolina fans have been waiting for. His long journey begins September 7th in Tampa Bay.