ESPN Hashmarks blogger and former Charlotte.com Panther beat writer Pat Yasinskas calls out five teams he predicts will be ‘teams to surprise’ in 2008. If you’re wondering whether Pat has lost his homer leanings to the Panthers you won't find it here, the Panthers come up first.
What's the difference between a 7-9 season that comes up short of the playoffs and an 11-5 record with the potential for a deep postseason run?
In the eyes of the Carolina Panthers, it all comes down to the right elbow of quarterback Jake Delhomme. In an otherwise quiet off-season, the Panthers have made it clear they believe the main ingredient for a turnaround season is a healthy Delhomme.
Uhhh Pat…quiet off-season? 2007 was quiet, 2008 was in my view heavy action for the Panthers from the Super Bowl right up to the draft. Things have quieted now as expected but geez…I wonder what a busy off-season would look like to Pat. I agree though that Jake’s elbow is the biggest variable going into training camp and is the one risk that could affect the season dramatically.
Top 5 Teams that Could Surprise: #1 Carolina Panthers
Coach John Fox spent much of last year saying he didn't like to make excuses and then turning right around and telling anyone who would listen how tough it is to win without your starting quarterback. That part was painfully true as David Carr flopped and Vinny Testaverde fossilized after Delhomme went down in Week 3. The bright spot was the play of undrafted rookie quarterback Matt Moore late in the season, but he remains a project.
The Panthers somehow resisted the temptation to bring in an experienced backup or even try to get a quarterback in the draft. That seems like a risky move. But keep in mind, the Panthers know the condition of Delhomme's right elbow far better than anyone else. Their medical staff must feel abundantly confident that Delhomme can make a full recovery from Tommy John surgery and Delhomme said he thinks he can be better than he was the past couple of years.
With Fox entering the season clearly on the hot seat, a healthy Delhomme is precisely what the Panthers need. After reshuffling their offensive line, drafting running back Jonathan Stewart and signing receivers Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett, the Panthers have all the parts are in place to be a serious playoff contender.
I for the most part agree with Pat. John Fox doesn’t like to make excuses but it is hard to overcome losing your franchise QB early in a season. I also agree the Panthers medical staff is confident Jake will be fine in time for the pre-season. On the third point, I think the Panthers did a little more than ‘reschuffle’ the offensive line with three (maybe four) new starters. The upgrade at receiver will be just as key.
Rather than Jakes’ elbow I think the biggest risk to the Panthers 2008 season is this:
the defense continues to struggle on 3rd down (bottom 3rd of the league in 2007), struggles to get pressure (only 24 sacks) and subsequently struggles to get off the field. I think the offense on the other hand will be alright if the defense can just give them the ball. To that end the key draft pick on defense just might be LB Dan Conner instead of S Charles Godfrey. We just may need another tackling machine at LB to make up for a potential down-grade in the run defense with the departure of Kris Jenkins.
Other people might point to other risks to the Panthers 2008 playoff hopes besides the pass rush. Regardless I’m confident that come September Jake’s elbow will no longer be one of them.