Panthers Debut at No. 11 in 2017 NFL Power Rankings

Placing 24th in the final ESPN Power Rankings, the Carolina Panthers are expected to rebound in 2017…

The Carolina Panthers, like every other NFL franchise, is now officially beginning preparations for the 2017 season. A day removed from arguably the greatest Super Bowl in history, ESPN released their first “Power Rankings” of the year.

The Panthers are locked in at number 11, securing a position in the top half of the league and behind only Atlanta in the NFC South.

Yes the Panthers finished last in the division last season but this team was close multiple times to turning it around during the year. Injuries piled up and a few late game collapses kept the team from gaining any positive momentum.

A few defensive coaching changes and a promise to evolve the offense could lead to a rebound in 2017. Head coach Ron Rivera will be looking to get his team off to a fast start next season as opposed to relying on his historical late season comebacks.

Following is what ESPN had to say about their ranking.

Why they’re here: On one hand, this is a team that won the NFC South in three consecutive years from 2013-15. Quarterback Cam Newton is just one year removed from an MVP season and will be only 28 when the 2017 season begins. Coach Ron Rivera retains a strong following in the locker room. Those are all strong signs. On the other hand, Newton showed signs of wear in 2016 after years of extra hits absorbed via the run or long duration time in the pocket. It seems clear that a change in Newton’s playing style is at hand; his 90 rushes in 2016 were a career low.

What could change: A draft loaded with running backs could take some pressure off Newton, and there could be some intriguing options available in free agency to address key needs. Would Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil join his brother, Panthers center Ryan Kalil, in Carolina? That might make some sense and would be an upgrade. The Panthers are projected to have more than $50 million in salary-cap space. The long-term future of linebacker Luke Kuechly, who didn’t play after a Week 11 concussion, could impact the franchise’s direction.

If the offense does evolve and Newton is protected, expect the Panthers to improve from their No. 11 ranking as the season progresses.

*View the full NFL Rankings here.

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