Each week, theScore will go division by division, highlighting which three players’ performances will most impact their team’s season in 2017.

Cam Newton


Newton’s 2015 season: 35 TDs, 10 INTs, 10 rushing TDs
Newton’s 2016 season: 19 TDs, 14 INTs, 5 rushing TDs

As Newton goes, so do the Panthers.

SuperCam was unable to build on his 2015 MVP campaign, as he regressed while battling injuries and head shots in 2016. He also faced the increased attention that comes with winning the league’s highest individual award.

In facing a first-place schedule, the Panthers were unable to sneak up on their opponents as they did the season prior. Newton also threw the ball more than he ever had and made a concerted effort to dial back his rushing attempts. In the end, it led to worse results for both team and player.

Newton has since undergone offseason shoulder surgery on his throwing arm. His recovery from that, and from his disappointing 2016 campaign, will dictate which version of the Panthers – the Super Bowl finalist or the fourth-place team in the NFC South – will show up this season.

Christian McCaffrey

The Panthers used the No. 8 pick in the draft on McCaffrey, with the expectation that he’ll make an immediate impact.

Newton was in desperate need of more playmakers, and it would be hard to find a better-suited prospect than the NCAA’s record-holder for all-purpose yards in one season. McCaffrey is expected to take pressure off Newton in the running game, be a safety valve as a receiver out of the backfield, and potentially even showcase his return abilities on special teams.

If McCaffrey’s game translates to the pro level in his rookie season, there’s no doubt Carolina will be able to improve on its 6-10 showing from a year ago.

Luke Kuechly


The Panthers’ three-time All-Pro linebacker has yet to play since his glassy-eyed exit from a Thursday night game in November. Kuechly missed the final six games of the 2016 season after suffering a concussion that had onlookers fearing for his football future.

The Panthers lost four of those six games and gave up an average of 26 points. The defense clearly takes on a different look without Kuechly making calls in the middle of the unit.

For Carolina to rebound this season, it’ll need Kuechly back wreaking havoc. He’s said to be over the concussion and no longer wants to discuss it, but it was his second such injury in as many seasons. Fortunately, he’ll have had around 10 months to recover from the latest one by the time the 2017 season kicks off.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

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