The Carolina Panthers need to come out of the 2014 season fast and with a winning record. In Ron Rivera‘s first three seasons in Charlotte, the Panthers have a combined 3-7 record in the month of September.
2014 is the year that this streak of stumbling out of the gates and playing catch-up comes to an end.
Despite the fact that the Panthers have a banged up Cam Newton and a Special Teams unit that is far from decided, Carolina can still get through September with a winning record. Coach Rivera will have to turn around the energy that is currently looking like a team that is not 100% confident in itself.
However, I do believe this team can hit the month of October 3-1 due to a schedule that the Panthers are more than capable of handling.
Game one is in Tampa against a division rival that is trending upward. Lovie Smith has them on track, but they are too young to realize their identity one game into the 2014 season.
The next two games are at home against teams that are coming off of difficult opponents from the previous week. The Panthers open Bank of America’s 2014 season against the Detroit Lions and then host the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. Week four is a game most fans have circled as Carolina travels to Baltimore to reacquaint themselves with former Panther-great, Steve Smith.
Coach Rivera cannot let this team fall behind this season with a gauntlet of tough games stretching through mid-October, into late November.
Newton is banged up, but his injuries merely require rest. The recent rib injury is a concern, but there is specially designed gear that can be worn to protect tender ribs. He’s one of the biggest spokesman for Under Armour, for crying out loud!
The biggest issue that the Panthers have faced this preseason, is that none of the three units have been fully healthy, and on the field together to gel. Whether it was Roman Harper or Charles Johnson missing defensive reps, or Jonathan Stewart missing action with the offensive unit, fielding a cohesive unit is crucial to a teams’ success.
The coaching staff for the Panthers will have to get all of these players on the same page and quickly in order to succeed. Kelvin Benjamin, Byron Bell and the cornerbacks were the biggest question marks heading into the summer, but all have been non-issues moving forward.
The Panthers don’t have any holes, outside of strong safety and the kick returners, so it’s just a matter of getting everyone healthy and making the chemistry stronger.
Carolina will field a 53-man roster that is strong enough to compete in the NFC again, and will certainly be a viable playoff option. The month of September will play a major role in the direction their season goes.
Yes, 2013 was a storybook type of season the way Carolina rallied to go 12-4 and win the NFC South. However, that is not the path that fans nor the organization want to go back down. Instead, getting a head of steam rolling forward is what needs to happen.
Tampa Bay, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are all winnable games and Coach Rivera needs to figure out how the Carolina Panthers are going to accomplish this.
20 years is a long time to go without consecutive winning seasons, and 2014 is the year this streak ends.