Last year was supposed to be the Panthers' debutante ball. A fresh coat of paint on the franchise, Cam Newton exuding confidence in his own abilities -- Carolina were gussied up to show that they were no longer the NFL's lovable losers.
Then New York happened.
Losing to the Giants served as catalyst for football disaster. Newton started to lose confidence, Ryan Kalil became a punchline, Marty Hurney lost his job, and the team were dejected. You know the story: The Panthers turned it around, everyone became happy again -- and it didn't matter that five of the team's seven wins came against sub-500 teams, at least they were winning.
The late-season turnaround was a 'get out of jail free' card for Ron Rivera, who bought himself another season. It also offered an opportunity to start over, correct their missteps, and regroup for 2013.
Why then are the Panthers still talking about what's to come, rather than keeping it in house?
Last year Kalil predicted a Super Bowl, this year Greg Hardy is gunning for 50 sacks, while Thomas Davis believes the Panthers can have the best defense in the NFL. The predictions are less far-reaching, but part of a larger problem the Panthers have had under Rivera: Not managing public expectations.
Put aside Kalil, because his manifesto was foolishness. What Hardy and Davis are saying is perfectly normal for private banter -- but why is it escaping the locker room? There's a fine line between self-confidence and public hubris, and their willingness to make these goals public shows a lack of understanding of who Carolina Panthers fans are right now.
Desperation has bred impatience, and impatience is manifesting itself as frustration. Fans are weary of the promises and the bravado, and need to see it convert to something tangible on the field. Thankfully this team isn't far away from being competitive, but it would be nice if the 53 were as quiet as church mice from now until September.
Want a prediction? I have no friggin' clue how this season will go. In past years I was able to divine some sort of information from the roster as constructed. In 2011 I predicted the team would finish 6-10, in 2012 I gave them a generous bump, up to 9-7 (which most felt was too low pre-season). This year there are simply too many variables.
Last week the fine folks at Niners Nation posed an interesting question over Twitter: Which NFL team would be the most likely to win the Super Bowl, OR finish 0-16? My answer was naturally Carolina. It's hard to find another team that has so much balancing on a knife edge.
This coaching staff will work, or it will flame out. The secondary will hold, or let everything though. Linebackers will stay healthy, or they wont. With so many unknowns, and questionable areas it's not the time to make any predictions, it's time to be quiet, and take what the season gives up.
There's a reason Steve Smith is in the media more than anybody else and never speaks a word about predictions -- he gets it.