It's Saturday night and another day has passed us by, which means we are one day closer to kickoff! This is my first FanPost, so please bear with me as I try and give my personal predictions for the upcoming season. All of the predictions contained herein are scientifically and factually sound (and by that, I mean I have done NO research). It would be too easy to say the Panthers will score 50+ pts/game, allow a mere 3 field goals all year (all 9 pts. in week 5 to the SeaChicks), sweep the division (after the Saints and Falcons forfeit their final games against us), then sweep the playoffs and finally be the first team to score more than 60 pts in a SB (and of course, log 15 sacks in that game). Alas, this will not be one of those FanPosts. It is good to dream, though. Tonight, I'd like to lay out my "Season in Preview". Again, this is all scientifically and factually sound information.
Before underanalyzing each game, I think it's important to grade the team in all facets to the team we saw last year.
1) Offense - This year's O has been slightly improved compared to last year. This is a good thing, because last year the Panthers were a top-tier offense. When was the last time any of us could say that? With the addition of Mike Tolbert and increased competition along the O-line, I foresee a positive increase of about 15%. Opponents beware: we can and WILL run up the score on you (don't look at Smitty's face b/c you KNOW what that means).
2) Defense -Thanks to BAMF, this offseason saw a lot of positive contributions to the D. Drafting Keek and getting Beast back (and hopefully TD) would breathe life into the most stagnate of defenses in the NFL...and stagnate we were. Like all of you, my main concern is safeties. Fear not, it's hard to throw the ball when you are being tackled, so best of luck to our opponent's QBs (not). Expected positive increase: 35%
3) Special Teams - Last year saw a few blips on the radar with special teams, but we have improved in this department the most. The ST unit will be ranked in the top 12, running back more than 4 kickoffs for TDs. Obvious positive increase: 50%.
4) Coaching/Staff - This year we will have the same GREAT staff. Our players are lucky to have them, and as fans...most of us don't know how lucky we are to have them. Thank you, Jerry! No positive increase possible.
Now, let's get the season started!
Week 1: @ Bucs (W) - There are no easy games in the NFL, but when you compare the two teams and factor in the changes going on in Tampa it is hard to think the Panthers will lose this one. This game will be closer than expected,though, b/c our D is still working out the wrinkles and Tolbert has his first of 3 fumbles for the year. Panthers 28, Bucs 24
Week 2: Saints (W) - Like an old western movie, this one will be a shootout. Drew will have big #'s in the air, but Cam will just be unstoppable. Our D is still gelling, but ST change the momentum and the Panthers overcome the Saints. Panthers 34, Saints 31
Week 3: Giants (L) - Manning & Co. pull out a big one in Charlotte on a Thurs. night. The good news is that our D shows up strong and holds the Giants to only 17 pts. Panthers 13, Giants 17.
Week 4: @ Falcons (W) - After his 2nd fumble of the season, Tolbert scores the winning touchdown with 1:53 left in the game. Keek then gets his first of 6 picks for the year and is downed at the Panther's 38 with :27 left. Panthers 24, Falcons 21
Week 5: Seahawks (L) - During a very close game and just before the half, Cam takes a bad hit to the midsection. He plays the 2nd half, but he's clearly bruised and the Cats fall to the Hawks. Panthers 20, Seahawks 31
Week 6: Bye Week- RR and staff get together and discuss Cam's health, as well as the noticeably improved ST unit. A small adjustment is made in the LB Dept and our players get some much needed rest and time in the film room.
Cowgirls Cowboys (W) - On a very inconspicuous Sunday afternoon, the Panthers show that they are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. The D gets a safety and two INTs, ST runs one back for a TD, and Cam lets us all breathe a sigh of relief when he sets a personal record of 433 yrds in the air. Panthers 44, Cowboys 20
Week 8: @ Bears (W) - Although Judas Peppers records a sack on our QB, he is quickly reminded of just how helpless he is to Dwill and JS. Double Trouble run over the Bears for 202 yds. and the Panthers advance to a 5-2 record. Panthers 24, Bears 21
Week 9: @ Redskins (W) - R3 completes 2 passes to Keek and gets sacked 3 times (2 in the red zone). ST runs another one back and Congress passes a law banning the Panthers from ever doing it again. Panthers 19, Redskins 10
Week 10: Broncos (L) - Manning earns his paycheck by engineering a last-second game-winning drive. Cam leaves towel around his neck and tells the press afterwards that this team will make the playoffs. Panthers 28, Broncos 34
Week 11: Bucs (W) - Having worked out the defensive wrinkles since week 1, the Bucs are simply overwhelmed with the ground game and fall again to the Panthers. Panthers 31, Bucs 17
Week 12: @ Eagles (W)- The Panthers do something they rarely do....win a Prime Time game! This game will be back and forth, but low-scoring. Cam shows Vick HIS style and we eek one out. Panthers 24, Eagles 23
Week 13: @ Chiefs (L) - An overabundance of mismatches and mistakes make this seemingly reachable win an impossibility for the Panthers. The offense just doesn't click and the D can't keep up with the Chiefs. Panthers 17, Chiefs 27
Week 14: Falcons (W) - Smitty, Lafell, and Stewart go bat-sh@t-crazy on the Falcons amassing 300+ yds in the air and 165+ yds on the ground in this yawnfest of a division game which was over before the 2nd quarter began. Panthers 37, Falcons 20
Week 15: @ Chargers (W) - Knowing the signifigance of this game and having marked it on his calendar in July, BAMF pulls out all the stops in this game. Tolbert grinds the ball all day like a disgruntled ex, ST show up like their lives depend on it, and there are more trick plays than muggings at a Jets game. The defense gives more than desired, but holds out in the end. Panthers 28, Chargers 20
Week 16: Raiders (L) - At 10-4, the Panthers show similarities to last year's team by running up the score early and letting it slip away. After this loss, a pep talk is given in the locker room by none other than Ryan Kalil who states "we need to put this loss behind us, but next week...let's put it in the Saints behind!!". Cheers and optimism grow, and later that night someone runs up a very large bill at Ruth's Chris.
Week 17: @ Saints (W) - Not forgetting Kalil's words, the Panthers give Brees & Co. total fits all day and return the favor they bestowed upon us last year in the final week of the season. Tolbert's 3rd and final fumble of the year turn out to be a blessing when Beason gets his first safety of the year and the Panthers finish the season at a well-improved 11-5 and NFC South Division Champions.
So, there you have it. Don't forget this is my first post, so please take it easy on me in the comment section. I was thinking about going further into the playoffs, but I'd rather hear what everyone else thinks will happen when we get there.