With the recent release of many 2012 mocks I've noticed one common similarity through nearly all of them. They all have Carolina picking in the top five yet again. The experts aren't the only ones with a grim outlook, many of us here are predicting a poor season. Now I'm not saying we'll make the playoffs, but I'm not really one for doom and gloom. Especially given many teams are going to be going through exactly the same struggles we are. We aren't the only team breaking in a rookie QB, we aren't the only team who struggled on offense last year, we definitely aren't the only ones adjusting to a new coaching staff, and we aren't the only ones who brought in practically no free agents. The naysayers point to our strength of schedule, the hardest in the league. However SOS is almost never accurate from one year to the next. Parity is the name of the game in the league, and we saw it with Miami and Atlanta in 2008. They were worse than we were it could be argued, and they both made the playoffs with a new coach and QB the following year. So let's take a closer look at the schedule, see if we can find a reason to hope.
Week 1: at Arizona
They have a shaky QB situation, and a mediocre defense. Outside of Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston they don't have much offensive talent. This is a game I could definitely see us winning.
Week 2: Green Bay
The defending Super Bowl Champions against the worst team in the league the past season. I'm not holding out much hope for this one. We did pull off an upset similar to this our inaugural season however.....
Week 3: Jacksonville
Jacksonville have an okay offense. If either Garrard or MJD get hot, watch out. Defensively they are solid as well, with few weaknesses. If they have a bad day, I could see us breaking off a long run or two. This one is probably a push, although I certainly give the edge to the Jaguars.
Week 4: at Chicago
The Bears are a solid team, however they are starting to show signs of wear and tear. A youthful, hard hitting team like the Panthers could be problematic for them. By now our defense should be starting to hit their stride. If we can shut down Forte, pressure Cutler into some turnovers, and control the ball on offense, we could pull off a win.
Week 5: New Orleans
The Saints are looking as strong as ever. However division games are always tough. I don't think we win this early in the season, however later in the year we should have more of a shot.
Week 6: at Atlanta
The new look Falcons make their debut against us. Same as New Orleans, we could win this, but I doubt we will.
Wek 7: Washington
Unsettled QB situation, and a generally poor all around offense. Similar to us a year ago, their defense can carry the load, but will crack eventually as their offense gives up the ball. Definitely a winnable game.
Week 8: Minnesota
Rookie QB, new coaching staff, strong running game, excellent defense, who does this sound like? If we're going to be pessimistic about our team, we can't help but be pessimistic about the Vikings. I'll call this a push, but one slightly in our favor.
Week 9: Bye
Our bye comes at an excellent time this year. By now we could theoretically be 4-4, with wins against Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, and Chicago. Not a shabby start. However most concede the toughest part of our schedule is yet to come.
Week 10: Tennessee
The Titans are dealing with a new staff and QB just like us. They will rely on their extraordinary RB's and solid defense to carry them. I think us being at home will give us a bit of an advantage this year, you could see more Auburn fans at the stadium rooting for Newton similar to how Denver drew more Florida fans this year cheering for Tebow. We could definitely pull out a win here.
Week 11: at Detroit
Detroit are going to be very scary this year. With or without Stafford, they have very solid QB play, a two pronged rushing attack, and a fearsome defensive line. They are my darkhorse playoff team. I don't see us pulling out a win here, especially on the road. If the Lions are doing well at this point, Ford Field will be a nightmare to play in.
Week 12: at Indianapolis
The only way we can pull this one out is either if Peyton Manning has a meltdown (it's happened a few times) or if Double Trouble run wild (also known to happen). So theoretically I could see us stunning the football world, but I wouldn't bet any money on it.
Week 13: at Tampa Bay
Our third straight road game, and while the Panthers under Fox earned a reputation as road warriors we don't know what identity Rivera will bring. Tampa Bay are a tough, young team, part of a division I see inevitably taking the crown of the NFC East as the best division in the NFL. It's a divisional game, so anything's possible, which also includes Josh Freeman wiping the floor with us.
Week 14: vs Atlanta
I think our tough, grinding style of play could be hard for Atlanta this late in the year. Also they could very well have locked up a bye or something by now, although I doubt it. Regardless, this game is more likely to be a win than our earlier matchup, yet I still see us falling.
Week 15: at Houston
The Texans have a scary offense, and got some good, new pieces to their defense. However they're transitioning to a 3-4, and that's historically been a rough period. Especially when they weren't that good to begin with. I can definitely see us pulling out an upset here, as it's well known a good defense beats a good offense most of the time.
Week 16: vs Tampa Bay
We've historically done well at home against the Bucs, plus I'll hopefully be attending this game. With that in mind, we're sure to pull out a victory here. :P
Week 17: at New Orleans
We close in the Superdome yet again, and realistically the only hope I can see for this game is if New Orleans has nothing to play for, i.e locked up the division, can't get a better seed, etc.
So in closing a 6-10 or 7-9 record is definitely possible, there is even a chance we could hit or surpass .500. While that would be an incredible season and I'm not holding out much hope for it, we've seen miracle years before. IMO the doom and gloom is unwarranted, and a little bit self-centered. We're not the only ones with major problems, the rest of the league has to deal with this lockout and if I understand correctly one of the reasons Rivera was hired was that he had an organized plan for how he would deal with a lockout. So let's end this pity party and start planning our Super Bowl party! I jest of course.......but you never know.