Through nine games this season, the Panthers have only been able to win two of them. Despite the fact Carolina has been in every game but one this year, there have been a few grumblings amongst Panther fans. I think the main reason for the collective sighs of frustration is due to the fact we were spoiled by the early success of our rookie quarterback and the huge turnaround from the offense. However, there is no reason why we, as fans, need to worry about the lack of wins or the direction the team is headed. For starters, there is no more feelings of imminent doom going into each game. We are not screaming for a different QB nor wondering if Carolina will break ten points in a game. Those feelings from last year are gone and with it, a reason for hope and prosperity for the future.
Let's be honest. I knew, you knew, hell even the team knew it would be an uphill battle going into this season. There were alot of question marks. The offense presented the biggest one. No one was impressed with Jimmy Clausen's play or lack of during the 2010 campaign. Carolina couldn't run the ball and the line was getting owned. Ok, to be fair, Clausen folded like a lawn chair more than he should have so perhaps all those sacks given up cannot soley be put on his shoulders. The difference this year is we are excited about what Cam Newton and the offense will do each week. Seriously, we only had one bad game...ONE!
More questions have popped up during the course of the season. Depth at linebacker has proved challenging with both Jon Beason and Thomas Davis succombing to injuries and the never ending adventure known as special teams. I will not elaborate on the latter as thinking about it just annoys me. However, despite these drawbacks Carolina has remained competitive. Consider the following:
Cam Newton gives us a chance each game - There is no denying the kid has skills and has kept the Panthers competitive each week. Through nine games he has posted some good numbers for a rookie: 197/327 2605 passing yards 11 TDs and 10 INTs. Plus, he has rushed for 374 yards and 7 scores. Cam should be the hands down choice for Rookie of the Year. Honestly, his only competition is Andy Dalton.
Numbers don't lie - 196 PF/408 PA 17 TDs in 2010. This year's numbers so far: 190 PF/208 PA 21 TDs. This goes to show how improved the team is compared to last year. Defensively, there is some slippage but I don't see Carolina giving up over 400 points this year. The offensive numbers alone tell the story of a turnaround. Carolina could possibly double the number of points scored if they can avoid let downs similar to the one they had against Tennessee. Best stat of the year: Steve Smith with 51 receptions 951 yards receiving and 4 TDs. Remember last year? Smitty's stat line looked like this: 46 receptions 554 yards and 2 TDs.
Winnable games remain - This topic has come around time and again with many of us predicting which games the Panthers should win. Most of us have been proven wrong. Arizona, Washington, Minnesota and even Tennessee were all projected by many of us to be games that would or could swing in Carolina's favor. As fate would have it, the Panthers would end up on the short end of the stick against each of those teams. The remaining games are somewhat soft compared to what the Panthers had to start with. The teams most likely to lose to Carolina are Indianapolis, Houston and Tampa. Indy has been the joke of the league and with Peyton Manning down with an injury they seem to be this year's version of the 2010 Panthers if not worse. Houston lost QB Matt Shaub and if not for that I would not see this as a game Carolina could win. However, Houston knows adversity and has overcome injuries to key players, i.e Andre Johnson and Mario Williams. I am weary of Carolina's rush defense because both Arian Foster and Ben Tate could have huge games. Carolina is going to need Matt Leinart to throw the ball and make mistakes. Of the three games I have picked for the Panthers to win, this is the one with the lowest probability for success. Finally, there is Tampa Bay. Tampa has regressed in recent weeks and haven't played to the level most thought they would. There have been injuries to their running back corps and defensive tackles. The latter prompting them to claim Albert Haynesworth off waivers. These games have always been entertaining in the past and I expect a chippy, hard fought game.
This team is a work in progress. While Carolina is young and talented, they are also inexperienced and vulnerable. That being said, the talented youth on the roster has all the makings of turning Carolina into a yearly playoff contender. If the Panthers finish at 2-14, 3-12 or 5-11 its ok. That kinda of positioning gets Carolina a nice spot in April's draft plus the opportunity to trade out of the pick for bigger compensation. I can't think of an easier way to address numerous holes other than having a nice supply of draft picks. We can soak it in and debate who should be drafted, signed or released. I promise you, Carolina will not be picking in the top ten come April 2013. This is a team on the rise. Stop grumbling and talking about what might have been. Let's enjoy these last few weeks and play spoiler. I'm still excited as I was the day the season started and everyone of you should be too. Go Panthers!