I think we're going to make the playoffs in 2013 primarily based on improved play by people already on the roster. I'm motivated to write this because I saw a prediction that we'd go 4-12 next season. The predictor expects us to lose every game against the NFC West, plus every game against the Falcons and Saints. Of course, that writer was for the bleacher report, so it has no credibility, but still, I didn't like it. As I discuss how we get to the playoffs, though, I will infuse opinions about possible draft pick combinations. Overall, we're going to have a very talented team that is winning games, and maybe we finish 2nd in the division again, but it will be with 10 wins. I think 10 wins is all we need to get in, but 11 or 12 are possible. Also, I'm coming from the perspective that the last six games are the real Panthers who will show up in Game 1 for our win against the Seahawks. The four main reasons we will win more games are the return of Beason, the return of Kalil, improved play by Cam Newton, and improved coaching by Rivera.
The return of Beason is going to provide a major boost to the defense. In the last six games, we gave up 16 points a game. In four of those games, we gave up less than 200 yards passing. The other two games, both wins, had us giving up over 300 yds passing to Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. In the last four games, the most rushing yards we allowed was 70. Jon Beason playing on the outside will improve our run defense on that side, and between the tackles, and he also plays well in pass coverage. In eight games last year, we held opponents to less than 100 yds rushing. We'll be even better this year.
The return of Ryan Kalil will also help with the overall quality of our pass and run blocking. One thing the center is responsible for is getting everyone on the same page, and calling out the right schemes. Considering he was the only center on the NFL's top 100 players list of 2012, it's safe to say he's an extreme upgrade over what we had last year. I think he'll result in a noticeable increase in yards per carry for runs up the middle, and he'll help Cam avoid getting sacked 36 times like he did in 2012. Kalil's return and last year's experience will cause Silatolu to play much better. There's a ripple effect going on here. If the C and LG positions are vastly improved, that will enable Gross to have a better year than last year. He and Amini won't be helping the right side of the line, but at least the middle and left sides will be much improved. Understand, too, that I'm talking about a line that we all agree needs help, but finished 9th in the league in total rushing yards, and averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
Improved play from Cam Newton will be an immediate upgrade over 2012 Cam Newton, a guy who had a QB rating of 86, had 4700 offensive yards and 27 TDs, and set the team record for most consecutive passes without an interception. He was somewhat inaccurate in the clutch, and held the ball too long at times. If he doesn't fumble at Atlanta, we win that game, and if he doesn't skip the ball in the dirt against Seattle, we win that game, for a 9-7 record. So if we were two plays from 9-7 last year, it's not a stretch to say we go 10-6 this year. But I expect Cam to be more accurate and more clutch this year, and to throw the ball away sooner, resulting in fewer sacks this year as well. Better decision making will lead to better play, as we witnessed in the last six games. Last season, Cam had six games with a QB rating over 100, and eight games with a QB rating over 95. I expect his QB rating to be over 93 for the season, and his completion percentage to be at least 62.
The final improvement if the coaching. I have no specific examples, but simply put, he has to have learned something after watching us throw away all those fourth quarter leads... if nothing else, he learned that either that changes, or his job title changes. I have confidence he'll be better at in game adjustments and coaching in the clutch.
WIth all the reasons I mentioned, do you honestly think we can't simply win three more games than last year? That's it, just three more. Now let's take a quick look at your excuses why we can't. I think our receiving corps will be better because Gettis will be back, Pilares will be healthy, Hixon will contribute, and LaFell is also better. WHo knows if Ginn will be on the field to catch passes or if Lamont Bryant will get off the PS. For those of you who think we'll take a receiver at 14 or 44, just realize that any improvement in the receiving corps will only help Cam and help us win. Improved play from Kalil to Gross will be a major factor, but I think in the first four rounds, we get an instant starter on the right side, probably in the form of the RG in the 4th. But again, look at what I said above, and plug in an instant starter on the right side. Now you can look at our d-line. Edwards, CJ and Hardy combined for almost 30 sacks, and a fourth linemen, who I think will be a DT drafted in the 1st or 2nd round, will solidify this line as one of the league's best. That leaves more blitzing and better pass coverage underneath for our LBs. Think about this for a second... Beason is the SLOWEST of our starting LBs. Alexander will also play better in his second year, and our line could be the strength of our defense, even better than TD, Keek and Beast on the field at the same time. Then there's our secondary. Our secondary is simply going to play better than last year. Norman will play better because of experience and humble pie. Drayton Florence is an upgrade over Munnerlyn as the other starter. I must admit, though, that if we have to start Nakamura at safety, the weak link on defense every play will be where he lines up. We gotta replace him. And last but not least, Ginn will solidify the return game, and Nortman will avoid 6 yd punts.
There you have it. We win at least 10 games, and could possibly get to 12. Draft possibilities include Hunter, Nailey, Hopkins at WR, or Richardson, S. Williams, J. Williams, Short, or someone else at DT, or Fluker or Cooper on the OL, or maybe Cyprien or Rambo at S. All of those options are instant starters and immediate upgrades for a very talented team.
If we do not make the playoffs, it will be for one reason, and one reason only... Ron Rivera.
That's all I got. I'm out.