Jeremy Igo
Now that the Carolina Panthers offseason has begun, it is time to look ahead to the team's priorities. 
1. Josh Norman will receive the franchise tag paying him 14 million. Dave Gettleman won't sign Norman long term, although it could be easily argued Norman has earned it. Instead, he will be franchised for at least one more season. This is not ideal for either party, Norman or the team itself. But, this is sometimes a necessary evil in today's NFL. Yes, Josh Norman gets a nice pay check for a year. The problem for him is he is coming up on 28 years of age and could risk being injured this season. That would mean an unlikely top paying long term contract in 2017. There is a risk here for Norman to lose tens of millions of dollars overall in his career. Keep an eye on this. It is possible Norman could demand a sign and trade to a team that can afford his services long term, like the Oakland Raiders for instance. 
2. Shore up the pass rush. Dave Gettleman told us this in so many words at his press conference yesterday. Kony Ealy showed tremendous promise in the Superbowl with a performance on par with the Superbowl MVP Von Miller. Ealy is just now coming into his own, and like Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, could break out in his third year in the league. Charles Johnson will either be released or will be extended at a very cap friendly deal. Normally I would say Johnson would be released for sure, but his relationship with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has me second guessing it. There isn't a stronger mutual player/owner respect in the league. Look for the Panthers to make a strong push in free agency for an up and coming player or spend one of their top 2 draft picks on a defensive end. Remember, free agency sets up the draft. 
3. Find your future runner. Gettleman told us one of his three pillars of a winning philosophy is running the ball. Jonathan Stewart will likely be retained for one more season, but after that the Panthers currently do not know who their future feature back is. Cameron Artis-Payne saw mixed results during the season, showing an issue holding on to the ball. Brandon Wegher they like, but the fact that he was only active for one game tells me they see him as a long term backup. Does this mean that both have no shot at being a feature back? Of course not, but it does mean that the Panthers will look to minimize the possibility of not having a true feature back in 2017 and even 2016 if Stewart is injured. I can easily see the Panthers signing a quality free agent runner or spending a top 3 pick on a running back. 
Jeremy Igo
Wow, what a season. 
This final Along the Sidelines is brought to you in Black and White. Mainly because I feel like it fits the tone of what Panthers Nation is feeling right now. The inevitable Carolina Panthers Superbowl Victory will be brought to you in brilliant color. 
Without Further Ado....
Along the Sidelines - Superbowl 50
Jeremy Igo
Superbowl 50 is here and it features the Carolina Panthers led by NFL MVP Cam Newton. 
Let that just sink in a moment. 
Levis stadium opens to fans at 2:00 eastern time. I will be covering the action from the field early. Follow me on Twitter to get a behind the scenes look. 
The weather here in the San Francisco has been phenomenal. This should be the perfect day for a football game. 
Keys to Panthers Victory
- Establish the run early. The Broncos defense is fast, but smaller in nature. They could be susceptible to the Panthers power running game. If the Panthers can establish the run early with 4-5 yard runs per attempt, the game is all but in the bag. 
- Get physical with Manning. He may not have the arm strength, but he is basically an offensive coordinator on the field. If he has time to throw, he is still capable of picking a defense apart. If the Panthers can apply pressure with their front four, there will be at least one Peyton Manning interception today. 
- Seize the moment. This is still a young Panthers team, although they do have key veteran leadership. A Superbowl victory is not a given, and nothing is worse than a Superbowl loss. Panthers fans know this all to well. Now is the time for a complete game in all phases. Own this day.  
One of the unique features of humans is that we have the ability to tell stories about ourselves. And we've done just that, since the dawn of time. Some scholars argue that stories began in conjunction with the invention of controlled fire, others that it came about with the arrival of language structure and the ability to self-reflect. Whatever the origin, we've been spinning yarns for as long as anyone can remember. Faded cave paintings in Europe and the existence of millennia-old oral tales bear testament to this fact. Gilgamesh, Sisyphus, Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Karate Kid, Finding Nemo - all of them are human stories about meaning.
And all of them are the same.
So argued Joseph Campbell, a profoundly influential 20th century writer who penned the now-famous work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, he compares hundreds of myths (stories, legends, tales, epics, dramas, folklore) from across all times and places and argues (very convincingly) that those stories have an internal structure that is more or less the same across the board. Every story has its hero, and every hero follows the same basic pattern, encounters the same basic trials, receives the same basic help, faces the same basic obstacles, completes the same basic end.
Joseph Campbell calls it The Hero's Journey.

Troll 2 was cited as a notable exception.
The Hero's Journey is composed of 17 stages. The stages are variable in order, but the hero - whether it's Luke Skywalker or Marty McFly or Frodo Baggins - always begins in an ordinary world, in which he receives an initiation. It's a call to adventure: Luke was smitten with the lore of the Jedi when he met old Ben Kenobi, Marty rushed to the scene of Doc Brown's time experiment and was interrupted by Libyan terrorists, and Frodo bounded joyfully out of the Shire, shouting it to anyone who would listen. I'm going on an adventure!
Out of the ordinary world our heroes inevitably journey, their departure leading them into the world of the extraordinary, the other, a place of trial and temptation and initiation. They fight and they fall and they grow and they triumph, and every hero's journey ends in a return, a heart-swelling finish:  Jesus to the Heavens, Nemo to the reef, Simba to the pride.
And, goddammit, the Super Bowl Champion Carolina Panthers to Charlotte, North Carolina.
That's right, the Carolina Panthers are our hero, and they're on a journey that follows the same structure seen in timeless epics the world over. Take a look at Campbell's mythic structure, broken down into 17 different stages:

Sweet hot damn, if this isn't a a mirror of the journey of the 2015 Carolina Panthers I don't know what is. Let's break it down, step by step.
1) Call to Adventure! It's Week one, and the Panthers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's the beginning of the season, where everyone's undefeated. Much maligned all preseason as marginal at best, Carolina grabs a hard-fought victory and advances to 1-0. The journey has begun.
2) Refusal of the Call. Every hero faces trepidation, the terror of the unknown and the possibility of failure. With Luke Keuchly lost the week before, a sense of inadequacy filled the hearts of our heroes, a weakening of confidence as the JJ Watt-led Texans marched into town. But the refusal in the head is always overcome by a stirring in the heart, and the Panthers stepped up and produced a win.
3) The Magic Helper. When the hero commits fully to the journey, his aid becomes known. It's usually magic, and it usually comes from an unexpected place. For Luke Skywalker it was Ben Kenobi and the Force. For the Panthers it was ...Mike Shula? Suddenly the Panthers were making good use of personnel, scheming around talent deficiencies, and scoring points, with Shula pulling the strings behind the scenes. The Saints went down hard.
4) Crossing First Threshold. Here the hero enters into the realm of the unknown for the first time. And the Panthers, utterly destroying the Buccaneers for four quarters, found themselves stepping onto the path of a 4-0 undefeated team. Suddenly people were using words like "elite" (if only skeptically) to describe them, and our heroes found themselves on the cusp of true initiation. The Bucs were one thing, but the Seahawks were quite another.
5) Belly of the Whale. The hero lives his world behind for good, finally separated from his old self. When Greg Olsen caught a game-winning touchdown pass against a foe that had sent them seething to the locker room for nearly half a decade, the Panthers entered this stage of the journey. They underwent a metamorphosis that day, and suddenly the world noticed something new about the Carolina Panthers. They were... dangerous.
6) Road of Trials. With the emotion of the Seahawks game passed, our heroes settled in for the long haul. Sixteen games takes a lot of focus. After several weeks of emotional highs and blown-up scoreboards and jaw-dropping highlight plays, the contest against the Philadelphia Eagles brought them down to earth in what was more or less a war of attrition, and probably the most boring game of the season. Cam threw some ugly interceptions. Ted Ginn dropped balls. Greg Olsen was marginal. The Panthers won, but they carried a lot of questions to the locker room. They had problems to fix.
7) Meeting with the Goddess. At this point in the journey, the hero has faced serious hardships and is in need of morale boosters and an infusion of courage. In this case it was none other than Mother Rain. The field was a maelstrom that night, and the second play from scrimmage was an Andrew Luck fumble, and from there the ass-kicking was on. The Colts would come back to force overtime, but the goddess of precipitation had other plans, letting a soaked football slip out of the outstretched arms of TY Hilton and into Luke Keuchly's outstretched arms. A gift from the heavens. Panthers win.
8) Temptation. Oh, here was temptation. The Panthers were 7-0, one of the best teams in the league, and the temptation to buy into their own hype was enormous. But Ron Rivera, man of discipline, father of stalwart focus, would not let them. They shithoused the Packers, embarrassing them in the first half and making several clutch plays in the second to seal off a comeback attempt. With the lackluster Tennessee Titans up next, the temptation was stronger still.
9) Atonement with the Father. But Ron Rivera wouldn't let them. Ron Rivera, the strongest influence in their football lives, here infused them with power through a special encounter. Against the Titans, Cam infamously danced in the end zone after a hard-fought score, bringing the wrath of loser defensive ends and the pearl-clutching mother of the new Antebellum. The team dabbed on 'em, took group photos. They laughed and they rioted and they partied. And Ron Rivera - coach, father, mentor - sanctified it. Our heroes were validated by the man they loved the most. Our heroes were ready for a run.
10) Apostasis. Dying to the self. Rebirth, a new identity. This happened twice in two consecutive weeks. Cam Newton died to his former self, throwing a record five touchdown passes en route to a four-quarter thrashing of the Redskins, the first time in his career he'd done it. And four days later, Luke Keuchly destroyed Tony Romo's fragile confidence, taking one to the house and punching Tony Romo in the face, the first time in his career he'd done either. Clark Kent had become Superman and Steve Rogers had become Captain America. They wouldn't look back.
11) The Ultimate Boon. In the hero's journey, the boon is usually the hero's ultimate goal. No boon but a Lombardi would suffice, but sweeping the hated Saints was arguably the regular season's most valuable plunder. And plunder they did. Superman took them for five touchdowns, leading a clutch last-minute drive for victory and advancing the team to 12-0.
12) Refusal of Return. Heroes often find themselves at a crossroads, a refusal of return, having found bliss and enlightenment in the world they've occupied. But E.T. had to phone home. And the Panthers, now the NFL's last undefeated, found themselves vulnerable, with the entire league aiming to shoot them down. But they suited up and they came home and they trounced the Falcons, 38-0.
13) Magic Flight. The hero has gained something of value in his journey and must bring it home to the people: a victory, or a rescue, a healing potion, the culmination of the journey. In Rescuers Down Under, it was Bernard the Mouse, milquetoast though he was, on Orville the Albatross, a high-stakes gambit to save Cody from McLeach and that lizard thing. In the 2015 Carolina Panthers, it was a high-flying shootout with the New York Giants in the hardest test our heroes had faced all season. Do or die, they were told, and they did. The Giants died.
14) Rescue from Without. Here, on the brink of return, our hero is wounded. Injured, weakened from the fight. The Panthers lost to the Falcons in a dismal end to the greatest winning streak the franchise had ever seen. The needed one last shot of power, one last infusion of confidence to catapult them over the edge. And they got it from none other than Cam Newton, who took them into the Buccaneers without his running game and leading wide receiver and led his team to victory.
15) Crossing the Return Threshold. Our heroes completed the season at 15-1, but the journey wasn't over yet. Our heroes still had a treasure to bring home. To do it they'd have to start by defending their home against the final onslaughts of the enemy. That threshold was Bank of America Stadium, and there they displayed the prowess they'd gained on their journey, brutally dumping 31 first-half points on the Seahawks for the entire world to see. They made a statement, and the city of Charlotte, its heroes at their gates, sang with hope. Victory was at their doorstep.
16) Master of Two Worlds. In the classical hero's myth, the journey up until this point has been a strengthening: the hero, once week and feeble, has, through his trials and tribulations, gained a series of strengths along the way. At this stage of the journey, preparing for his final battle, he must put both of his strengths on display. And the Panthers, having struggled at times defensively all year, at times offensively when needing to close out a game, demolished the media-touted Arizona Cardinals in a victory so staggeringly complete that Ron Rivera had to decline field goals and touchdowns just to save his enemy from allowing 50+ points.
The stage has been set for the final component of the hero's journey:
17) The Freedom to Live. Mastery leads to the freedom of fear from death. Our heroes are whole. Our heroes are strong, courageous, mighty, and full of lust for final victory. They are masters of themselves, masters of their fate, masters of destiny.
Forward they charge on Sunday, against the Denver Broncos, masters of football, masters of offense, masters of defense, masters of point-scoring and masters of pain. On Sunday the journey ends.
On Sunday Charlotte's heroes bring home its boon.
31-20 Panthers 
Jeremy Igo
Here is some of my favorite moments from the Panthers media day from social media. 
Atta Boy, Bene! 
Josh Norman gladly wears a Mexican wrestling mask that a reporter gave to him. 
Kid tells Cam Newton he dabs just like him. Cam gives him good advice. 
Solid quote from Josh Norman
Luke still sounds like Luke in the locker room after a preseason game. The kid is just as steady as they get .
Broncos kicker gets attention....
and finally, the greatest selfie ever taken. 
Jeremy Igo
Each week I bring to you what fans of the opposition are saying about the game. This week, Denver Bronco fans discuss the Carolina Panthers. 
On why the Broncos will win...
Six reasons here, not one of them has to do with football. The past, emotion, destiny, etc. If you do your best to come up with six reasons to win and none of them have to do with the skill of the players or the efficiency of scoring points... it won't be a good time for you. 
On Josh Norman
Josh Norman has shut down receivers twice as good as anyone on the Denver roster all season long. I am not sure he is someone you want to throw shade at. He tends to get a bit worked up. 
On the Panthers run game... 
Denver has not played a running QB all season, unless you count Andrew Luck. In addition, the Panthers have better rushing games against 3-4 defenses as they have a power run game. Fewer really large men on defense is to the benefit of the Panthers. 
Denver should be very, very worried about the run game. If the Panthers can run the ball, the game is all but over. 
Not battle tested? This is the third straight year the Panthers are in the playoffs. Also, they had to defeat two teams that are better than the Broncos to get to this point in the postseason. 
Yeah, you do that. Rodgers is a pretty athletic guy and runs well to buy time, but Cam will gash you for 30 yards up the middle if you just try to contain the edges. 
Here is the bottom line, and all you really need to know. The Denver defense is built to defeat the New England Patriots, and it worked. They have a lot of speed to keep up with the Tom Brady passing attack. The problem is, they are not at all built to play against a big, physical team. The Panthers offense isn't the highest scoring offense in the league due to finesse. They put a helmet on a helmet and physically punish you methodically. Basically the opposite of New England's arena ball offense. 
This won't be a close game, folks. 
Jeremy Igo
The Carolina Panthers practice today included a few things of note. 
First and foremost, the Panthers stretched and got lose to 2Pac and Dre Dre's "California Love"
Clearly the guys are looking forward to Santa Clara next week. 
Ron Rivera broke down the huddle. This week has seen increased focus by the team and coaching staff. 

Thomas Davis participated in a few light drills and was then carted off. It was a good sign to at least see Davis get in a bit of activity, however limited. 

Jared Allen saw plenty of action. It does appear he is a go for the Superbowl.

Overall is was a sharp practice. Here are a few more photos for your viewing pleasure. 

Jeremy Igo
There have been a great number of music videos sent to us this season, mostly rap or hip hop tunes with a Carolina Panthers flavor. 
I came across this unique song this morning, and really thought it was well done. The artist, Patrick Carroll, took the Sweet Carolina victory anthem of the Carolina Panthers and put it through an "Adam Sandleresque" filter. 
"Except Atlanta" had me laughing Nicely done Patrick!
You can follow Patrick on twitter  or on his YouTube
Jeremy Igo
Each week I bring to you the best of what my camera lens finds. 
This week, the Carolina Panthers defeat the Arizona Cardinals in convincing fashion to move on to the Superbowl. 
This is the largest "Along the Sidelines" I have posted. Stick with it, there is plenty of photography goodness from beginning to end. 
Without further ado... 
Along the Sidelines - NFC Championship Game
Jeremy Igo
Today the Carolina Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals. The winner goes to the Superbowl, the loser goes home. Not much else needs to be said. 
Preview Video:
Panthers Keys to Victory
- Run the ball, Run the clock. The best way to limit the offensive firepower of Carson Palmer and his outstanding receivers is to keep them off of the field. Time devouring drives featuring runs by Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton will keep the defense fresh and the game at a pace the Panthers excel at. 
- Harass Carson Palmer. When the defense does take the field, they need to make sure Palmer is on the ground early and often. Apply as much pressure as possible through creative blitzing. I am not saying hit him after the play, I am saying make sure he is on the ground when it is close enough not to draw a flag. He is a stoic 36 year old QB that has looked less than stellar so far in the playoffs. Do not let him get comfortable. 
- Sound special teams play. If I have one worry about this game, it is special teams giving up a big play and causing a momentum shift. Last week they allowed a huge return just after the half to setup the Seahawks first touchdown. I don't need to remind you what happened after that. 
This is the first time in Panthers history they have hosted the NFC Championship game. No matter the outcome, this day will be remembered as Panthers lore for generations to come. Enjoy it.