Teams that could regress in 2014

Panthers top list of four NFL teams in danger of sliding in the standings

Updated: June 9, 2014, 11:28 AM ET
By Field Yates | ESPN Insider

Cam NewtonAP Photo/Ric TapiaProtecting Cam Newton, who took a ton of hits in 2013 and is coming off ankle surgery, is a concern.

It has become almost an annual tradition in the NFL: a team rising from the basement of its division into the playoff picture in a matter of a single year.

In 2013 alone, three teams that were at least tied for the worst record in their division made the playoffs, including the Carolina Panthers, which rose from 7-9 (tied for worst in the NFC South in 2012) to 12-4, good enough to earn a first-round bye in the ultra-competitive NFC.

But regression in the NFL is almost just as common, as we saw with first-to-worsts Atlanta and Washington in 2013. The Panthers are hoping to avoid a similar fate, but there are several factors serving as red flags as to why they project as a standings slider in 2014. 

Here's an in-depth look at why Carolina could slide back this season, along with three other teams in danger of regressing.

Concerns in Carolina

Offseason overview -- It has been a difficult offseason for Carolina, parting ways with the heart and soul of the roster in wide receiver Steve Smith, while quarterback Cam Newton underwent ankle surgery, longtime left tackle Jordan Gross retired, and star defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested following an alleged incident of domestic violence. On top of it all, the team was a virtual non-factor in free agency beyond bargain-based shopping as general manager Dave Gettleman continued to work around the cap constraints he inherited from the previous regime last offseason.

Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.