Teams that could regress in 2014

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

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.