What the Panthers must do to take home the Lombardi Trophy in 2014

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Last offseason, the Seahawks and their fans looked at their team after suffering a defeat in the divisional playoffs. They knew they had a pretty good team, and wondered what it would take to capture their first title. Carolina is in the same boat this year.

Seattle and Denver come into this year as the favorites, with Denver at 6/1 and Seattle at 13/2. Carolina’s number at the moment is 40/1. Should Seattle be the favorites heading into this season? No. Here’s the understatement of the year–winning a Super Bowl is hard. Winning multiple Super Bowls is a feat only few have pulled off. Only the Giants and Steelers have done so with the same core players in the last decade. However, Seattle is group that arguably has the best collection of talent in the NFL, so they are in decent shape to pull off the first repeat championship since the 04 Patriots. But just how hard is it to repeat as champions in the NFL? I decided to research the following year for the last 15 Super Bowl champions before Seattle.

The ones with * by them made the playoffs, the first parentheses say how did in the playoffs, and the second parentheses says what seed they were in their championship season.

2014 Seahawks- ???
2013 Ravens- 8-8 (4)
2012 Giants- 9-7 (4)
2011 Packers- 15-1* (one and done) (6)
2010 Saints- 11-5* (one and done) (1)
2009 Steelers 9-7 (2)
2008 Giants- 12-4* (one and done) (5)
2007 Colts- 13-3* (one and done) (1)
2006 Steelers- 8-8 (6)
2005 Patriots- 10-6* (1-1) (1)
2004 Patriots- 14-2* (won Super Bowl) (1)
2003 Buccaneers- 7-9 (2)
2002 Patriots- 9-7 (2)
2001 Ravens- 10-6* (1-1) (4)
2000 Rams- 10-6* (one and done) (1)
1999 Broncos- 6-10 (1)

Overall, 8 of 15 made playoffs, only 3 of 15 won in playoffs the following postseason.

Breakdown by seed:

1 seed- 6, 5 made playoffs the next season, 3 were one and done, 04 Patriots followed 03 Patriots with Super Bowl win, and 05 Patriots followed 04 Patriots with a wild card win over Jacksonville before losing in Denver in the divisional round
2 seed- 3, all missed playoffs the following year
3 seed- 0
4 seed- 3, 2 missed playoffs, 01 Ravens followed the 00 Ravens with a wild card win over Miami before losing to Pittsburgh in the divisional round
5 seed- 1, Giants one and done in 08
6 seed- 2, 11 Packers were one and done, 06 Steelers missed playoffs

So seeding doesn’t seem to have any clear effect on performance in the subsequent playoffs. Coming in, I wondered if seeding would be a factor because teams that were higher seeds might have overachieved or avoided serious injury during their title run. In fact, the opposite was true. As you can see, most one seeds returned to the playoffs the next year.

As you can see, the Seahawks face long odds to repeat as champions. But despite the effects of the “Super Bowl hangover”, it is perfectly reasonable to expect Seattle to be back in the playoffs next season. Winning a playoff game however, the same cannot be said of.

But now, Panthers fans, I will examine what needs to happen for Carolina to take the title from the defending champions in 2014.

1. Cam Newton must stay healthy.

I know, that sounds like a given because he is the face of the franchise and he is occupies the most important position on the field. But with his offseason surgery and reshuffled offensive line, this becomes a vital task, and one that must be given special attention. Cam’s playmaking ability is vital to the offense, an immobile quarterback just will not do. Derek Anderson doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

2. Kelvin Benjamin must produce immediately.

He may not have to grab 100 catches in 2014, but Benjamin must realize that he is going to draw the other team’s best corner most of the time. The worst thing to do to the kid is to make him become Steve Smith’s “replacement”. Just let the kid play, he’s got a completely different skill set than Smith. He won’t stretch the field like Smith did, but Benjamin will go over the middle and be a great red zone target. However, he cannot fall into the receiver “growth period”. Typically, receivers take a year or two to get adapted to the NFL before they take off. If Carolina wants to contend this season, Benjamin won’t have that luxury.

3. The offensive line must not allow as many sacks.

Cam was one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league last season, taking 43 sacks, which was tied for 5th most in the league. Losing Jordan Gross only hurts a group that is largely lacking in experience. Finding a new left tackle that can be depended on is essential, and third round pick Trai Turner and incumbent Garry Williams with fight it out to be the week 1 starter at right guard. This group will have their work cut out for them.

4. The secondary must not get burned deep routinely.

I fully believe that Carolina’s front seven can rival any in the NFL, right up there with St. Louis, Seattle, etc. With Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud being brought in at safety, they must make sure those two, or Tré Boston, or whomever is back at safety, cannot let receivers beat them over the top. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson will be looking to do that in week 1, and Matt Ryan will be looking for Julio Jones for big plays this year. The safeties and young corners don’t have to be great, but they can’t lose it for Carolina.

5. Ron Rivera must not get complacent.

After the 2012 season, many Panthers fans were ready to see Rivera go. He had coached in a Steve Mariucci-like fashion, sitting on leads and ultimately seeing them evaporate. He must not take his job security for granted, because one bad year and he might be gone.

None of these will be easy, but if the Panthers can accomplish those things in 2014, they could be raising the Lombardi Trophy in celebration of their first championship, just like the Seahawks did last season.

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