A year ago Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil predicted that his team would win the Super Bowl in 2012. Instead of helping fulfill that prophecy, Kalil headed to injured reserve with an injury, and his Panthers struggled to even stay above .500 for most of the year.
While the Panthers weren’t a legit Super Bowl contender in 2012, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they take a major leap and re-start that bold talk again in 2013. After a rough start, second-year quarterback Cam Newton lit the NFL up down the stretch, and the Panthers actually ended up winning one more game in 2012 than they did in Newton’s rookie season.
With Newton getting even better entering his third season and the same offensive weapons around him, it’s not too crazy for Kalil and co. to once again think “super”. And considering Carolina stands in with just 66/1 odds to claim the Lombardi Trophy, they’re shaping up as one of the better Super Bowl sleepers for the new season.
It all starts with a change in philosophy, as the Panthers are heavily expected to stop trying to air it out or toy with read-options so much, and play better, more consistent smash mouth football. With arguably one of the better, deeper back-fields in the entire league, that’s a move that could end up proving to be quite beneficial.
Offense hasn’t been the problem for the Panthers, however, and doesn’t figure to start holding them back in 2013. Rather, it’s the defense. While the defense was horrible in 2011 and still not great in 2012, they seem to be on the road to recovery as 2013 rolls around.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has developed into a superstar in the middle of the defense, while new rookie Star Lotulelei is expected to help revamp a struggling run defense, while also improving the pass-rush. If Carolina’s secondary can withstand the loss of veteran corner Chris Gamble, their defense could actually start turning into a strength.
The Panthers as they stand aren’t locks to be anyone’s Super Bowl favorite, but with their talent and intriguing odds, they might not be the worst team to pick on a whim.