Dec 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs the ball in the first half against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Power Rankings countdown: 10. Carolina Panthers

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2014 NFL Power Rankings Countdown

10.  Carolina Panthers (NFC South)

2013 Record:  12-4

Head coach:  Ron Rivera - Rivera started the 2013 season on the hot seat, as a third consecutive losing season almost certainly would have gotten him fired.  However, as the talent on his team seemed to mature the pieces of the puzzle came together for Rivera.  He then led the Panthers to the NFC South Division title, and they’ll certainly be in contention to win it again.

Best offensive player:  Cam Newton, Quarterback - Newton came into last season with something to prove.  In 2012 it seemed as though Newton couldn’t handle the pressures of losing and how a franchise quarterback needed to deal with diversity.  But the lessons he learned that season paid off big time in 2013.  As Newton was a much stronger and mature leader for the Panthers.  And as Newton gets better as a player the Panthers seem to improve as a team.   NFL Power Rankings

Best defensive player:  Greg Hardy, defensive end - Many will say Luke Kuechly is the Panthers best defensive player, but I’m going with Hardy. He has amassed 26 sacks over the past two seasons, and emerged as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.  At times he seems unblockable, as his strength and speed off the edge causes problems for offensive tackles in his way.  However, Hardy may be his own worst enemy as he’s recently been found guilty of Domestic Violence, and he may be suspended some time soon by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Rising Star:  Luke Kuechly, middle linebacker - Yes Kuechly is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, so technically he already is a star.  He had a phenomenal season for the Panthers, and is arguably the best middle linebacker in the NFL.  However,  I can think of a few other players who I would have picked as defensive player of the year over Kuechly.  He is only entering his third season, but another performance this year like last year will solidify him as not only the Panthers best defender, but the NFL as well.

Best new addition:  Kelvin Benjamin, wide receiver - The Panthers cut Steve Smith and lost their other top receiver Brandon LaFell in free agency.  So they needed a young player maker at wide receiver, and they drafted Kelvin Benjamin in the first round.  Benjamin’s size and strength will make him a tremendous target for quarterback Cam Newton, however, it may take him a little time to develop.       NFL Power Rankings

Biggest offseason loss: Jordan Gross, left tackle - Some will say it’s Steve Smith.  And while Smith is still a good receiver, Gross was one of the best left tackles in the NFL.  And now that he’s retired, the Panthers are still scrambling to try to find someone to replace him.  If they can’t find an adequate left tackle, quarterback Cam Newton may have a long season.

Biggest strength:  The Panthers biggest strength is their defensive line. They have one of the best defensive end tandems in the league in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.  And they have two up and coming talents at defensive tackle in Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short.  This foursome frees other players on defense to make plays.          NFL Power Rankings

Biggest weakness:  The Panthers biggest weakness is at wide receiver.  The Panthers did draft a good young receiver n Kelvin Benjamin, but he may need some time to develop.  So other than him, the Panthers only have solid journeymen in Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery to try to make things happen at the position.

32. Houston Texans

31. Cleveland Browns

30.  Minnesota Vikings

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

28.  Oakland Raiders

27.  Washington Redskins

26.  Atlanta Falcons

25.  Buffalo Bills

24.  Tennessee Titans

23.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

22.  Detroit Lions

21.  Miami Dolphins

20.  St. Louis Rams

19.  New York Jets

18.  Dallas Cowboys

17.  New York Giants

16.  Pittsburgh Steelers

15.  Philadelphia Eagles

14.  Chicago Bears

13.  Baltimore Ravens

12.  Cincinnati Bengals

11.  Arizona Cardinals

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Tags: 2014 NFL Power Rankings Cam Newton Luke Kuechly NFL Power Rankings Washington Redskins

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