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A young franchise based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers have emerged as a heavy contender in a tough NFC with playoff appearances to back their reputation as a punishing defense that can put on a show offensively as well. Two Super Bowl appearances, including their most recent in 2015, has left this club hungry for a chance to make it back to the big game and finally earn their parade with a Lombardi Trophy in tow.
The early Panthers teams broke away from the typical expansion team protocol by jumping out to a 7-9 record in 1995 before going 12-4 in their sophomore season. Under John Fox, the 2003 Panthers reached the Super Bowl, going up against the dynastic New England Patriots. The thrilling game ended with a last second field goal to seal the 32-29 heartbreaker in New England’s favor. This memorable battle is still looked at as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time.
Teetering back and forth between mediocrity and dominance, the 2-14 record in 2010 was enough for executives in Carolina to turn the team over to a new coach and quarterback. Former player turned coach Ron Rivera was brought on to lead the team. He took on a team that had the first overall pick in that year’s draft and used it to select Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. This pivotal move would determine a great deal of the team’s future.
Building around Newton, the Panthers would improve their record in each of the next three seasons and would reach the Super Bowl in his fifth. The 2015 Panthers season was the team jump out to a 14-0 start before entering the playoffs with a final regular season record of 15-1. Beating Seattle in the Divisional playoffs 31-24 and crushing the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 punched Carolina’s ticket for Super Bowl 50 against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. A hard-fought defensive struggle saw Denver come out on top 24-10.
In what would be a year of considerable regression, the 2016 Panthers posted a record of 6-10 and did not make the playoffs. Looking to shake off the Super Bowl hangover, Rivera is preparing to make a major statement with his team this season. Newton’s focus and determination is renewed as he rehabs from off-season shoulder surgery.
The Panthers offense progressed in the offseason with the team bringing in Matt Kalil from the Minnesota Vikings to join his brother Ryan on the offensive line. Kelvin Benjamin has the fifth year of his contract exercised to lock him up through 2018. This is big news for Newton, who loves to throw the ball his way. Greg Olsen returns to tight end, a perennial Pro Bowler who is always reliable. The Panthers used their first round pick this year to bring Christian McCaffrey to the team as the new running back. He will compete with Jonathan Stewart to push the pile downfield.
Defensively, Carolina has a ton of talent on the roster. From Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, and Julius Peppers up front to Pro Bowl linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, moving the ball on the ground will be no easy task. James Bradberry, Mike Adams, Kurt Coleman, and Captain Munnerlyn policing the backfield will have teams reluctant to toss it up to their receivers.
While this team may not have been around for very long, they have still compiled a list of great players that have come out of the tunnel on Sundays to represent them. Among the best to ever compete for the Carolina Panthers are Steve Smith, Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen, Julius Peppers, and DeAngelo Williams. Additional information about the Carolina Panthers franchise can be found by clicking here.