I love that we are keeping Ron Rivera. I think you could see a difference in his growth as a coach over the course of the season, and I think now that he is getting the hang of things better, we will have a great 2013! It is frustrating that some fans are still so down on Rivera even though his improvement is obvious. What can be said to those fans to help put their minds at ease? – Mark in Archdale, N.C.
I'm in your camp on this one, but I also understand some fans having reservations when they had hoped the Panthers would be in the playoffs this season. For those fans, the only thing that will truly put them at ease is a better 2013, and I believe that Rivera showed late in 2012 that things are heading that way.
First, with Rivera being more hands-on with the defense, the Panthers ascended from 28th in total defense to 10th. Combine that with quarterback Cam Newton's growth after a slow start, and the Panthers are in position to consistently compete at a high level on both sides of the ball. That wasn't the case when Rivera was a rookie coach and the offense was ready but the defense wasn't, or in the first half of his second season when the defense played well but the offense didn't.
Rivera has the Panthers ready to put it all together, picking up where they left off.
Will the late season momentum carry over to next season? – Walt in Lenoir, N.C.
Speaking of where they left off, the Panthers won their final four games of 2012 and five of their last six. Some will be quick to point out that they won four of six to end 2011 but that it didn't carry over.
One of the biggest reasons I believe it will be different this time around is because of what happened at the start of the 2012 season. A couple of players have admitted that in light of the strong finish to the 2011 season, the team may have collectively believed that success was going to come a little easier than it obviously did. The team won't make that same mistake next season.
With all the worries about the salary cap, can't contracts be restructured? I think we should keep all our guys. – Dale in Murietta, Calif.
Such concerns are now in the hands of new general manager Dave Gettleman and his staff, which must move the Panthers under the NFL salary cap by the beginning of the new league year on March 12.
There often are salary-cap solutions, such as contract restructuring, that can provide relief, and Gettleman will undoubtedly look at all his options along those lines. In some situations, however, the only way to deal with cap restrictions is to part ways with a player.
Whatever decisions are made, the goal is to end up with the best possible roster that the cap will allow. Gettleman has plenty of experience and a track record of success along those lines.
What's the date that teams begin to negotiate trades from their roster? – Randy in Goose Creek, S.C.
Trades also are allowed beginning March 12, meaning the Panthers can't initially go that route to help with the salary cap situation. They could, of course, make trades to improve the team and/or set them up for a better salary cap situation in the future.
Are the Panthers going to play the Green Bay Packers next year? – Jayden in Sumter, S.C.
I would love to see the Panthers play the Packers, because that would signal that the Panthers are in the playoffs.
The Panthers are set to face one NFC North team next season, namely the Minnesota Vikings after both finished second in their respective divisions. You can find the rest of the 2013 opponents here; dates typically are announced in April.