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Panthers-Packers could be a late-season fight for playoff position

Carolina had a down year in 2016 after playing in the Super Bowl the year before, and they look for a return to prominence this season.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In the 13 days leading up to July 27th, when the Green Bay Packers begin training camp practices, APC is running a series we’re calling “13 in 13.” Over these two weeks, we will closely with a close examination of the major offseason events for each of the Packers’ 2017 opponents. Each team’s information has been provided by our SB Nation colleagues who know them best - the team bloggers for each franchise.

Although the Green Bay Packers conclude their 2017 schedule with a pair of divisional games — repeating last year’s week 16 and 17 matchups with the Vikings at Lambeau followed by the Lions at Ford Field — we close our 13 in 13 series today with a look at the team’s week 15 opponent, the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina went from first to worst last season, falling to 6-10 in 2016 after a stellar 15-1 season that saw Cam Newton earn MVP honors and the team advance to Super Bowl 50. Injuries struck all across the roster last year, however, including to the team’s best defensive player, linebacker Luke Kuechly. Combined with Josh Norman’s abrupt departure, the Panthers’ defense fell from sixth-best in points allowed to seventh-worst.

The Packers will see a familiar face on that defense in week 15: Julius Peppers, who spent the past three years in Green Bay. Likely at his best as a situational pass-rusher at this stage of his career, Peppers was brought back to help a unit that has questions on the outside of the defensive line. If the defense does indeed improve and the young playmakers on offense give Carolina a new dimension, the Panthers could be a team to watch as a candidate for a playoff spot this season. If so, this would end up being a crucial late-season NFC matchup for both teams, possibly with major playoff seeding ramifications.

To close out the series, here is a look at the Panthers’ offseason from the fine folks at Cat Scratch Reader.

Carolina Panthers

Notable free agent additions: DE Julius Peppers, CB Captain Munnerlyn, OT Matt Kalil, S Mike Adams

Notable free agent departures: WR Ted Ginn, OT Mike Remmers, FB Mike Tolbert, DT Paul Soliai, LB AJ Klein

Trades: None

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Curtis Samuel, OT Taylor Moton, DE Daeshon Hall.

While the Panthers continue to say veteran RB Jonathan Stewart will get the bulk of the work I think they will have a hard time not putting the ball in McCaffrey’s hands. I think he’s going to be electric as a rookie.

Biggest offseason addition: DE Julius Peppers - The Panthers all time sack leader returns home. So far the fans have welcomed him home with open arms.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: QB Cam Newton’s continued recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. He is expected to be ready for training camp but had only begin throwing recently.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: LB Shaq Thompson looks ready for a breakout season as the third All Pro LB in the Panthers starting lineup.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: None beyond Newton’s rotator cuff.