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Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly give the 2013 Carolina Panthers a youthful, talented combination only a few NFL teams can match. The pair offer a contrast in personalities, but the same level of talent and intensity.

The Panthers will be better, but they won’t be good enough to make the playoffs

The 2013 Carolina Panthers will have their first winning season since 2008, making the NFL playoffs on the strength of quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly.

The Panthers have the worst opening-game winning percentage of all teams in the NFL (6-12, .333), and a win against Seattle would do more than just help that stat.

Pros: Lost in all the talk about Cam Newton’s pouty press conferences and his towel-draped, sideline posture is this fact: No one in NFL history has thrown for more yards his first two seasons. That’s not all Newton does: Last year he became the first QB to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000.

Pros: If the front four doesn’t perform, new general manager Dave Gettleman will be back to square one. Gettleman re-signed defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, then used his first two draft picks on DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. They should combine with DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy to make up one of the better fronts in the league.

Pros: Ted Ginn Jr. showed during the exhibition schedule that he still has plenty of speed and the ability to revive the Panthers’ middling return teams. Ginn likes the way his blockers developed during the preseason. Kicker Graham Gano didn’t miss a field goal in four exhibitions, and second-year punter Brad Nortman was more consistent.

New offensive coordinator Mike Shula gets creative and doesn’t run the ball off tackle on second-and-1 at midfield, like he did in the preseason.

Josh Norman, Mario Addison could be big boost to the Carolina Panthers’ defense.

Carolina Panthers must take advantage of the early part of their 2013 schedule to prepare for a difficult finish.

Strong defenses, aggressive passing attacks present challenges for the 2013 Carolina Panthers.

“Despite a very good, young front-seven… this defense still looks middling-at-best to me. Awesome front-seven combined with league’s worst secondary burns you more often than not.”

Carolina Panthers’ defensive lineman Star Lotuleilei will excel in 2013, and other bold NFL predictions and players to watch this season.

Joseph Person and Jonathan Jones cover the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will have more than the No. 1 on his jersey this season: He’ll also have a captain’s patch.

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