Franchise quarterbacks make their teammates better. They paper over cracks in the roster. They turn losses into wins with great games, or even one great play at just the right time. Cam Newton is not always that guy, not quite yet.
The Panthers are going to have a very tough road back to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. The NFC South figures, once again, to be one of the strongest divisions in football—and if the Panthers improved, they improved less than any of the other three teams in their division.
When does the NFC East have the same division winner two years in a row? The Eagles took it last year, the year before Washington, the year before New York. The only constant was Dallas finishing 8-8.
Either way, it’s hard to see the Eagles improving on what they did last season. Yes, Nick Foles had one of the most efficient seasons one could recall, taking over as starter and throwing for 27 touchdowns to two interceptions and 2,891 yards. He was so good, the Eagles not only made him starter, but let Michael Vick walk.
However, the team released DeSean Jackson due to some off-field issues. Jackson had his best statistical season in Philly last year, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. He signed with the division rival Redskins, so you’ve got to believe he’ll be extra motivated to stick it to Philly in their two meetings.
2. Carolina Panthers
Due to their crippling salary cap situation, the Carolina Panthers seem doomed to regress in the 2014 season. GM David Gettleman inherited a salary cap mess when he took the Panthers job 18 months ago. When he took over, the team was $16 million over the cap.
This offseason, the Panthers cut longtime receiver Steve Smith and lost tackle Jordan Gross to retirement. Two huge losses that will not help Cam Newton out whatsoever. They’re still stuck with an overpaid Jonathan Stewart who has $18 million in dead money, meaning the Panthers can’t cut him to save cap space. Gettleman’s hands were completely tied in terms of improving the team. He simply couldn’t given the team’s cap situation. The team did keep Greg Hardy by using the franchise tag, so at least the Panthers’ elite front seven is still in tact.
3. San Diego Chargers
If there was a GM of the Year Award in the NFL, Tom Telesco would’ve been a great choice. Taking over from a dismissed A.J. Smith, Telesco made all the right moves from day one.
He made a great choice in hiring Mike McCoy as head coach. McCoy had proven in Denver as offensive coordinator that he could coach up any type of quarterback and could adapt his offence to play up to the strengths of his personnel. Telesco also knew that getting help for Philip Rivers had to be a top priority. Following McCoy was Ken Whisenhunt, a known quarterback guru and he proved to polish up Rivers’ game.
Telesco then had an amazing draft, getting some o-line help with D.J. Fluker in the first round and getting a steal with Keenan Allen in the third round. With a tackle and a no.1 receiver, Rivers had a phenomenal season, throwing for 4,479 yards, 32 touchdowns and a career-high 105.5 passer rating.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
The lasting memory of the Kansas City Chiefs’ bounce-back season was them blowing a 38-10 lead in the wildcard round against the Indianapolis Colts. Full credit to the Colts for coming back, but 35 second-half points allowed is nothing short of a collapse.
In 2013, the Chiefs had one of the easiest schedules in the league and they started their season 9-0. In fact, in their 9-0 start, only one of the teams they beat would go on to have a winning record (Philadelphia). Their other two wins were also against sub .500 teams. They lost both outings to Denver and San Diego, albeit while playing backups in their season finale.