The Panthers continue their growth as a team with Ron Rivera as the head coach. He improved by five games from the previous season while making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Their success was driven by the second best defense in the league in points allowed and total yards. Last year they allowed 122 less points than the previous season. Carolina’s offense has actually declined in the last two seasons. They ranked 26th in the league in total yards while scoring only the 18th most points in the league. Mike Shula returns for his second season as the offensive coordinator, and Sean McDermott takes over the defense for the fourth straight season. Rivera is 25-23 in his three seasons as a head coach. The Panthers have aging running backs with limited upside at the wide receiver position, which really puts the pressure on Cam Newton to carry this team. They finished 29th in the NFL in passing yards (3,043) with 43 sacks. Carolina finished 11th in rushing yards per game (126.6) despite having the advantage of a running QB. The Panthers were 6th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (3,429) with a league high 60 sacks, which led to 20 Int’s. They did allow a 66.6 % completion rate. Their rushing defense was 2nd in the league in yards allowed (1,391) while allowing a league low 4 rushing TD’s.
Last year the Panthers were the 2nd best defense in the NFL, which translated into the 3rd best fantasy option. They led the NFL in sacks (60) with 20 Int’s and only allowed 17 passing TD’s on the year. The loss of CB Caption Munnerlyn invites downside risk in the secondary. DE Greg Hardy was the team’s best defender. He had 14 sacks while playing very well against the run. 2013 first round draft pick DT Star Lotulelei had an excellent rookie season. He was a plus run defender while chipping in with 4 sacks. 2013 second round pick DT Kawann Short delivered plus value as a run stopper off the bench. Thomas Davis was one of the top LB’s in pass coverage with some value in the pass rush (4 sacks). 2012 first draft pick LB Luke Kuechly has played well against the run in his two seasons in the NFL with some improvement as a pass rusher (3 sacks) last year. The Panthers have exciting talent in their front seven with upside in sacks again in 2014 if their cornerbacks can play well in coverage. If they don’t get to the QB, they could have downside risk due to the play of their secondary. Solid top 10 fantasy option.
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