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Beyond the Scoreboard: Can Carolina Panthers put together two good seasons for first time?

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Photo: Ed Clemente / MGN

The perception of the Carolina Panthers is that it's a successful NFL franchise--a team that has reached the playoffs four of the last five seasons, and as recently as 2016 played for the Super Bowl title to highlight a 17-2 season.

But as the Panthers prepare for their 24th NFL season with training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg next week, the history of the franchise is that of mediocrity--and the inability to put together back-to-back successful seasons.

Since 1995, Carolina has been the very model of .500 football - an overall record of 192-192-1, including regular-season marks of 183-184-1 and a 9-8 ledger in postseason play.

They have had seven winning seasons, 13 losing records and three 8-8 finishes.

In nearly half (11) of their 23 seasons, the Panthers have finished regular-season play 8-8, 7-9 or 7-8-1.

In each of their previous six playoff appearances from 1996-2015, the Panthers failed to post a winning season the following year.

Even when they made the playoffs three consecutive years, that middle season (2014) included the team sneaking into the postseason after winning a weak NFL South with a 7-8-1 record.

After 23 seasons, Carolina remains the only franchise in the history of the league that has never had back-to-back winning seasons, a rather remarkable stat considering the team's recent success.

In order to break that cycle this season--coming off an 11-5 mark in 2017 that ended in the first round of the playoffs with a 31-26 loss to New Orleans--Carolina will have to deal with a front-office shakeup.

Original owner Jerry Richardson, who brought the NFL to Charlotte nearly a quarter-century ago, was forced to sell after allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace that resulted in the largest fine in league history, $2.75 million.

David Tepper, a hedge fund manager and former minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, bought the franchise for a record $2.275 billion.

The team is looking to hire a president, but while the front office is new, the on-field product was only tweaked a little.

Gone is all-time leading rusher Jonathan Stewart and offensive coordinator coach Mike Shula, replaced by well-regarded veteran coach Norv Turner.

There is also a new defensive coordinator: Eric Washington, the third in three years after Sean McDermott (to Buffalo in 2017) and Steve Wilks (to Arizona this past offseason) were hired away as head coaches.

The nucleus is solid, if aging: All-Pros like center Ryan Kalil and linebacker Thomas Davis have said this will be their last year, and the rejuvenated Julius Peppers has some gray in his beard.

There are some concerns about the health of concussion-prone linebacker Luke Kuechly and a revamped secondary, but the defensive line and linebacking corps are solid and will once again be the strength of the team.

As always, the Panthers will go as far as Cam Newton can take them.

The play-making quarterback started last season with the Shula-endorsed theory of less running and more in-pocket passing, but the team got better when he reverted to his normal way of being a legitimate threat as a runner and passer.

There is hope that Turner's guidance will improve the offense, along with some new speedy receivers and the continued emergence of running back Christian McCaffrey.

So maybe the Panthers can make history by being a good football team in back-to-back years for the first time ever.

This is the opinion of Keith Jarrett. Contact him at keithjarrettasheville@gmail.com.

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