I like the Panthers, and I like what coach Ron Rivera has done. There's certainly a chance they'll replace him, but if they do, they run the risk of interrupting the progress they've made, as the new guy will likely want to install his own systems and schemes.
The Panthers have some good, young players on defense, like Luke Kuechly and Greg Hardy, but most importantly, they have Cam Newton at quarterback. Newton gives them a chance to win every week, and that's all you can ask for out of a signal-caller. He's undoubtedly the centerpiece of this team, and the biggest reason to feel optimistic about Carolina's future.
What worries me is that the Panthers are likely to run into cap trouble, and they're carrying three pricey running backs (Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williamsand Mike Tolbert) they don't need. They'll have to make some tough moves to correct that, and it'll also make it tricky to give Newton more receiver help. Veteran Steve Smith is having a pretty good year (66 catches for 1,056 yards), but he'll be 34 next season, and when it comes to receivers and longevity, you never know. (Smith might play another three years, or he might not be able to run a lick in 2013.) Brandon LaFell is a solid No. 2 or 3 receiver, but he's not a No. 1. Still, the Panthers have Newton, and that can make up for a lot.