The start of the season presents a clean slate for each of the 32 NFL teams. While the media proclaims many teams playoff locks, there really is no such thing. We've seen first hand how injuries can devastate a team. Sure, some clubs may make it back, but the reality is there is turnover each and every year.
I have no problem being a homer. I'm not a professional journalist and I'm not trying to write an objective article. The sole point of this is to dream up my perfect scenario where the Panthers end up winning the division. Sure, it's far fetched, but who predicted The Miracle On Ice, App State v Michigan, or Marshawn Lynch owning the Saints?
Take the jump and see how our dream season takes shape. . .
Week 1: Panthers @ Cardinals
I think the scheduling overlords did the Panthers a favor here for several reasons. First, Newton gets his first game on the road. Let's face it. Some fans have exceedingly high expectations for the guy (even this year). I think a start at home would have been a lot more stressful. Second, Kolb and Fitzgerald may end up having a great connection, but those things take time. I think we overload the defense to his side, Kolb forces a few, and we get a surprising first week win.
Current Record: 1-0
Week 2: Packers @ Panthers
The Packers come in overconfident, Rodgers has a terrible game.....aw, who I am kidding? Packers win this one. Could we win here? Sure, I suppose, but even this optimistic homer sees that one as an uphill battle.
Current Record: 1-1
Week 3: Jaguars @ Panthers
The Jaguars are a team in need of a hug. Jones-Drew is a beast, but his insurance and load bearer (Rashad Jennings) has been lost for the year. David Garrard recently got cut
because they picked up highly valued in favor of Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert. I think the Panthers should handle them at home.
Current Record: 2-1
Week 4: Panthers @ Bears
We may be weak up front defensively, but the Bears' offensive line is not exactly stout. Cutler takes more hits than a pinata at a birthday party. Soldier Field once seemed an intimidating place for a visiting player to play, but not this year. Peppers may do his usual thing, but Newton won't be sitting back there asking to get hit like ____. I think we see a strong defensive performance from a quickly gelling unit and we see Peppers basically give up chasing Newton around. Win, win.
Current Record: 3-1
P.S. The crystal ball told me Olsen catches the game winning catch capping off a 123 yard, 2 TD game. Bears fans cry in agony.
Week 5: Saints @ Panthers
The Panthers got spanked, dominated, handled (choose your favorite word) by the Saints at home last year. Hope had already been lost, injuries had ravaged the starting line-up, and well, the Panthers just played bad football. I believe the Week 4 game from last season most closely resembles the talent we have on this team. This game will be tight and believe or not, the Panthers make a huge statement by knocking off Saints. Sidebar: John Kasay valiantly attempts to win the game for Saints, but his 3 field goals from 50+ are not enough.
Current Record: 4-1
Week 6: Panthers @ Falcons
Make no mistake, the Falcons can score points. They do what they do. However, I look at their defense and don't see why we can't move the ball against them. I think we split the season series with them and I'll credit them with a win at their place.
Current Record: 4-2
Week 7: Redskins @ Panthers
Do you think Rex Grossman is the answer to the Redskins' QB problems? How 'bout John Beck? Neither do I. This is a QB league and I'd take Newton over those guys any day. Panthers win this one in a rout and the QB controversy continues in Washington.
Current Record: 5-2
Week 8: Vikings @ Panthers
I know people say we have a tough schedule. I get that, but I love weeks 7 - 10. With a bye week squeezed in, we have 3 very winnable games at home: Redskins, Vikings, Titans. Do those teams really scare anyone? McNabb may still have some life left in him, but Harvin has trouble staying on the field (migraines) so who is he going to throw to? Panthers win in a game where the two teams combine for more rushing yards than passing.
Current Record: 6-2
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Titans @ Panthers
Coming off a bye and playing at home - I like our chances. Chris Johnson could gash us, but call me optimistic that our defensive line problems have been solved by this point. Given the week to prepare, I feel we bottle him up, force Hasselbeck to throw and we win a close one.
Current Record: 7-2
Week 11: Panthers @ Lions
Let's face it. We face the Lions at a great time. Look up "injury prone" and Stafford will be smiling right back at you. The Lions have the potential to be prolific. They also have the potential to be without Stafford and Best (injuries) and Suh (suspension - it will happen one of these days). I call the game a coin flip and I think we get a nice win on the road.
Current Record: 8-2
Week 12: Panthers @ Colts
When the schedule came out, everyone pretty much etched a loss in stone by this date. Take away Peyton Manning and the Colts are a completely different team. I know, he could and should be back by then. Well, they also kept trying to be optimistic for his return this preseason. We've seen how injuries can drag out to players. I sense a mystery for the Colts every week as they figure out whether Manning can play. In my dream world, he's not in there, we go to Indy and steal a victory. Oh, and the Colts D is not so great. There's always that.
Current Record: 9-2
Week 13: Panthers @ Bucs
Tampa Bay vastly overachieved last year. You've read the articles. They beat up on underachieving teams. What if the close wins from last year (half of them by a TD or less) go the other way? I see a team set up to take a fall. Coming off the big win at Indy, I see our boys running roughshod over an equally young TB team struggling to adjust to the difficulties they didn't face last year.
Current Record: 10-2
Week 14: Falcons @ Panthers
Huge game for the Panthers. The last 4 games of the season could be the toughest stretch. A win here and the Panthers may begin to taste the bubbly on their NFC South championship wine (sponsored by James of course). I think the running game continues to assert itself and Matt Ryan and company just won't see much time on the field.
Current Record: 11-2
Week 15: Panthers @ Texans
This game puzzles me. The Texans seem like the team version of Reggie Bush: explosive, tons of potential, yet underwhelming year after year. I think they put it together this year though. Manning may come back, but he may not be Manning. I think they put it all together, we visit them, and fall just short.
Current Record: 11-3
Week 16: Bucs @ Panthers
At this point, the Bucs have quit on the season. We need the win to keep our 2 game cushion on the Saints. Blount is injured due to his punishing running style and the Panthers force Freeman into mistakes (Yes, Freeman didn't make mistakes last year, whatever, this is my dream, and he does this year). Panthers win, clinch the division, and Carolina fans everywhere rejoice.
Current Record: 12-3
Week 17: Panthers @ Saints
I think the Saints remember the loss we gave them earlier in the year. They force Newton into some mistakes and we end the regular season with a loss. No biggie, we still won the division :-)
Current Record: 12-4
So there ya go, Panthers brethren. That's my dream scenario to a division title. Is it probable? No. Is it possible? Yes. This guy thinks the Panthers could go winless. Whatever. We'll see who eats crow at the end of the year.
So what do you think? How does your dream season shape up?