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Last year's ranking: 72
Title track: 57
Fan relations: 58
Stadium experience: 78
Bang for the buck: 4
Everything improved for the Panthers in our Ultimate Standings, thanks in no small part to their on-field turnaround. After starting the season 1-3, Carolina won a club-record eight consecutive games to finish the 2013 regular season at 12-4, its first winning season since 2008. Coach Riverboat Ron Rivera gambled his way to his first winning season and a nod as the NFL Coach of the Year, giving him a 45-point rankings jump. And studly performances by players up and down his roster -- which included Luke Kuechly, the league's Defensive Player of the Year, as well as Cam Newton and three other Pro Bowlers -- also improved the player ranking.
Carolina, which has sold out 116 straight games and 184 of the 186 it has played in Bank of America Stadium since 1996, is considered the second-best bang for your buck in the NFL, behind only the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. That's thanks in large part to the $3 soda, $3.50 hot dog and $86 average game cost, just $7 above the league's lowest. The stadium underwent several renovations before this season, including new high-definition video boards above each end zone, and a new high-efficiency, high-octave distributed sound system.
Off the field, the team continued its myriad of community initiatives, assisting 2,700 regional nonprofits, schools and other organizations through grant funding, programming, appearances and donations. For all that good will, the 2014 season got off to an inauspicious start when Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who tied the team record with 15 sacks last season, was found guilty on July 15 of assaulting a woman and communicating threats (he was sentenced to 60 days suspended sentence and 18 months' probation; he will appeal and wants a jury trial). On the roster front, the team released 13-year Panther and fan favorite Steve Smith and did little to help replace him, signing veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery, best-known for being sort of OK for the Jets a long time ago. For Carolina to top last season, Newton will have to play out of his mind -- and just maybe be good enough to become his own mom's favorite player again.