The 2013 NFL season finally kicks off tonight and the Panther’s season starts on Sunday against the Seahawks.
With real, "no excuses" football starting, I wanted to put together one last, admittedly optimistic review of our beloved Panthers.
How accurate is this assessment? Well, I’ll let you and time be the judges.
So, I’ll start where I’m most optimistic . . .
Baring injury, the Panthers have one of, if not the best front seven in football today. These guys will spend so much time in the opposition's backfield, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were offensive players.
While not exactly predatory, the secondary has shown it is an impressive scavenger, easily picking apart what's left of the carcass after the front seven has devoured the opposing offense.
Make no mistake, this will truly be a feast or famine defense. As long as they can blow up the offensive line, they will make big plays. But if the o-line holds, a decent QB will pick the secondary apart.
This D will be burned for some big plays, but I think it will make a lot more than it gives up.
After Preseason, it looks like Cam actually has some targets besides Olsen and the ageless Smith. LaFell is solidly planted himself as a number two, so the question is for the number three receiver.
Has Edwards finally turned the corner so he can burn some corners? I hope so, but if not, Hixon and Ginn are ready to take his place on the depth chart.
Even with Stewart sitting out at least the first six weeks, Williams and Tolbert have the talent to carry the load. The biggest question mark remains the Offensive Line.
It doesn’t matter how good a team’s marquee players are, if the line is a turnstile, helpfully counting the number of defenders they allow the backfield. With the return of Kalil and the signing of Wharton (he will be the starter sooner rather than later), this line is better than the one that helped win five of the last six last year. We all just have to hope that Bell and the backups can at least tally the number of players who blow by them.
Believe it or not, if the preseason is to be believed, the Panthers actually have a special teams unit this year.
In Spanish, "Gano" means "I win". For the Panthers, Graham looks like he might be able to live up to his name and win a couple.
BW's man-crush looks justified as Nortman looked good this pre-season. Plus, he was helped out by some solid coverage.
For returns, Ginn looks like the real deal. Best of all, he won't get caught by the kicker.
When you hire a head coach with no head coaching experience, you have to expect a lot of on the job learning (read mistakes) the first couple of years. Well year three is when you have enough experience to show you know what you are doing.
Looking at the end of last year, and the team finding ways to win in preseason, I think Rivera has learned his lessons. Sure most of the games the Panther’s won in the season ending run were agains lesser teams, but the first job of a coach is winning the games you’re supposed to win. So I think Rivera has improved, and now we will all see if he has what it takes to be an NFL head coach.
Mike Shula is the biggest question mark for me. I worry a bit about his play calling, but it has to be better than what we saw in the first three games of preseason, right . . . right?
Man, those crickets were deafening. I don’t every jump to Shula’s defense (or offense as the case may be). And that’s kind of the point, I don’t think too many fans have confidence in him right now. Let’s talk again mid season.
What does this massive read boil down to? This prediction:
It may make me old school, but I believe Defense wins championships. This year, with questions on the O-line, defense is our strength.
Again, baring injuries, I think we match up very well against our NFC South opponents. Ryan struggles under pressure, and the Panthers ready to bring plenty and I think they can stop Jackson. The Saints hired the wrong Ryan as D-coordinator, and the Saints D is basically the same as last year. Even our O-line can give Cam and Company the protection they need. The Bucs are the team that scares me as they really improved from the team that swept the Panthers last year, but I think we can steal one.
Panthers NFC South Record (5-1).
Add that to the six games other games I feel we can win and that means:
Panthers Final Record (11-5).
While I believe Rivera has improved enough so that the Panthers will win the the South and make the playoffs, I don’t think he is playoff ready yet. So I don’t thing the Panthers will make it out the Divisional Round.
Enjoy the season.