In Carolina this off-season there's been a lot of reasons to be optimistic. Start with Cam Newton building on an amazing rookie year, think through what actually having a real training camp can mean to the coaching staff, mix in the rookie additiona, and then finish with our defense getting healthy. When you consider all that, then the future looks bright.
Of course, in 31 other NFL cities fan bases are doing much the same thing. Does anyone doubt that Bronco fans are excited about Peyton Manning suiting up? How about in Atlanta, where they're certain that the new coordinators mean certain success? And in New Orleans, well they're too busy being indignant to get excited right now, but they still have talent.
Basically, it all looks like roses everywhere this time of year. Even in St. Louis you can find someone who feels like Sam Bradford is going to be a first team all-pro and the defense will finally click.
So what about the place where you have to think of all of them at once? What does Vegas think?
Recently, Cantor gaming released their point spreads for the 2012 season. Granted, it's way too early to put much stock in them, but what do you think their impression of the Panthers is? Take a look after the jump.
Once again, this is before training camp, and it just reflects what Vegas thinks it needs to say to get people to lay money down. But what they think says a lot about the nationwide impression of the Panthers. Despite having an emerging franchise QB, despite getting all those bodies back on defense, including all-pro Jon Beason, Vegas thinks we're going to win five games.
That's right, the Panthers are only favored five times in 2012. The first time that Cantor favors the Panthers at all is in week five, when Seattle comes to Charlotte. They have us as underdogs in eight games, and three are deemed a push.
Here are the lines, as published:
WEEK 1: Carolina Panthers (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WEEK 2: New Orleans Saints (-2.5) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 3: New York Giants (PICK) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 4: Carolina Panthers (+4.5) at Atlanta Falcons
WEEK 5: Seattle Seahawks (+3.5) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 6: Bye
WEEK 7: Dallas Cowboys (+1) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 8: Carolina Panthers (+4) at Chicago Bears
WEEK 9: Carolina Panthers (+1) at Washington Redskins
WEEK 10: Denver Broncos (PICK) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 11: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 12: Carolina Panthers (+7) at Philadelphia Eagles
WEEK 13: Carolina Panthers (+3) at Kansas City Chiefs
WEEK 14: Atlanta Falcons (+1) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 15: Carolina Panthers (+5.5) at San Diego Chargers
WEEK 16: Oakland Raiders (+4.5) at Carolina Panthers
WEEK 17 Carolina Panthers (NO LINE) at New Orleans Saints
How do they feel about the rest of the South? They favor the Saints in 11 matchups, the Falcons in nine, and the Bucs in three. Does it make sense to see the Saints on top again? Well, when you consider that the last time the NFL came down on a franchise in the off-season, it was the Patriots and they responded with one of the most dominant regular seasons in memory. Vegas isn't stupid.
And because they're not stupid, they know that the right line is the one that will prompt the most people to bet. So this is more a reflection on what gamblers nationwide thing, and not necessarily what football experts do. After all, Green Bay and New England are both favored in 15 games each, and the Jaguars are only favored in one. Then there's the Browns, who avoided 15 predicted defeats only because the last week doesn't have lines published.
So at best, Vegas thinks the Panthers are headed for another mediocre season. I'm sure that if you asked an odds-maker for their personal opinion, they would probably tell you that Carolina is on the rise. But that doesn't mean they want to bet on it.
So take this as a sign that Carolina isn't there yet from a national respect perspective. And that's ok, because as we know in Carolina, the talent is there to make our mark.
The respect is something we intend to earn.