I love my team, the Carolina Panthers, but I also love being right and prepared. I spend a ton of money and time on Fantasy Football, gambling on games and arguing with other fans. I would lose at all of these things without putting in some serious consideration to averages, potential and trends. So I thought a fun thing in the empty days of summer would be to spell out the floor and ceiling for our team in each facet for discussion.Now I don't want to delve into bad karma and silliness, so you will not see me injuring players nor having guys have record setting seasons all over the place.
Before I begin this allow me to state where I am coming from. I think Cam Newton is a top 3 athlete at his position and he has proven a ton to me the last year in his growth of maturity and work ethic. I never put much stock in the towel stuff but I did see him allowing the game to effect his attitude, especially in his post game interviews. I still think he has progress to make in controlling those emotions. I attribute most of his high throws to his being too amped up for big games or in clutch moments.
I think Gettleman is a great GM even at this early point in his job. I think he is more concerned with our next decade than our next season or game. I do not think he is perfect - but I will take the miscues for the whole.
I supported Rivera well past most fans. In his 2nd season and that off season I supported him. When we lost to Seattle I supported him. But the Buffalo game was my breaking point. Not just the repeat of his constant mistakes in half time adjustments and late game play calling but his throwing the players under the bus in his post game even though the loss was almost entirely his fault. His new found persona as Riverboat Ron has not impressed me yet. Seems to me he is willing to do any and every thing to win when his job is on the line but not when the teams fortunes or players are at risk. Now that his job has been confirmed, I fear we will be revisited by the conservative "pretty loss" Rivera not the gambling "do anything to get a W" one that saved his job. I gave him a lot of leeway, now he has to show me even more to win me back.
Best Case: Coaching: Rivera is really a new man! 2013 showed him the error of his ways and he will now feel secure in making calculated risks. Shula is in his element playing a big bodied, TOP game. Proehl continues to earn his accolades by coaching up the young WRs.
Offense: Cam continues to grow. With Cotchery and Avant helping him as mentors, Kelvin Benjamin puts his amazing physical traits to the max early and often. The offense are full on bullies on the field. With Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Benji, Cotchery, Mike Tolbert, And Jonathan Stewart we just shove the ball down defenses throats. The O-line manages to do just enough to give Cam time and the running backs lanes. Maybe we just eek out 3-4 yards per play but if you do that most plays you control the clock, field position and gain first downs. By the 4th quarter the opposition is gassed and sore from our constant barrage of big bodies.
Defense: Everyone knows we have one of the best, possibly the best, front seven in football. Even with injuries we have high caliber backups with Mario Addison, Frank Alexander, Ealy, Kawaan Shorts, AJ Klien and Colin Cole. That stout, pressuring group made a ton of underachievers look very good last year. Now they make a stockpile of former ProBowlers and rising young guns look incredible. The sacks and turnovers and pick sixes tally up like an NBA scoreboard.
ST: Gano and Nortman show that 2013 was no fluke. When you put good players in good circumstances they are money. Someone emerges, be it Pilares, Barner, Brown or a number of other guys on the roster with return history to come close to what Ginn did for us last year. Rivera's skill shines on a plethora of faceless talent to put together a group that is unhelalded but highly effective in special team duties.
Result: The offense makes many pundits (and myself) eat crow scoring 23+ in most games and the defense easily holds our foes to less. Carolina wins 13 games and does something never seen - Repeat as NFCS Champions. Earning a bye and a home game against inferior talent they progress to the NFCC at least, win the Superbowl with the luck any champion gets.
Worst Case: Coaching: Riverboat Ron only goes all in when he has personal skin in the game. With a new, comfy contract he returns to John Fox, Jr. mode, losing us games 17-20 or 12-13 when he punts on 4th and 2 and then tells us in the presser how the guys didn't perform the unlikely magic he wanted.
Offense: The offensive Line play kills us. Trai Turner, a third round talent, is asked to do the impossible. The tackles might as well be paid by every team we face because it appears they are working against us. Kalil can't even find a man to block because everyone on the other side are feasting on the swiss cheese holes around him. Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson are fine TEs, or so we are told, but we see little of it because of their poor blocking. Newton never gets many chances to pass to them or anyone. Stewart, Williams, and Tolbert are completely negated because we are having to use them as blockers, too. Basically, we need 8-9 guys to block 4 and that doesn't even consider the massacre when our foes blitz. Even if Underwood, our only realistic deep threat, is better than hoped, it is irrelevant because Cam never has nearly enough time to have him flare out and no team takes it seriously. Three and outs become the norm and by November we cheer them because at least Cam wasn't sacked again and we didn't turn it over. Cam starts to lose his trust in the team again and reverts to trying to do everything himself, removing our quality RBs from the mix and taking us deeper down the rabbit hole.
Defense: Let's be honest, even the worst case Panthers defense is better than most teams best case. There is no way, barring huge injuries, that this is not a formidable group.But if the O-line crumbles, as outlined above, and the offense follows then the field position and time of possession we covet turns against us. The defense, no matter how great, wears down. The secondary is filled with question marks. Is Godfrey ever going to be above average again? Was DeCoud just lucky in 2012? Is Harper over the hill? Are the Joshes as incompetent as they have appeared in the regular season? Is Cason the guy we wanted deeply in 2012 or the guy that barely moved the meter when we got him a couple of months back? Lester, UDFA gold or fluke benefactor of offenses underestimating him and the front 7?
ST: Graham Gano is not the 89% stud we saw last year but the 74% dud of his first 3 years in Washington. Asked to do to much, too often he misses, loses confidence (as kickers are wont to do), and misses even more. Nortman has a career year, in tackles, because he is punting nearly every possession. No one steps up in the return game and the special teams that are often a spark plug instead is overcome by morose in watching our season circling the drain.
Result: The defense is able to win at least 4 games on their own. A couple of early leads or lucky bounces muster one or two more wins. Even at their worst, the Panthers are not quitters or easily subdued. They finish 5-11. The talking heads crow about how bad the WRs and secondary are because that is what they said before the season even though any real observer knows that it was entirely bad line play and coaching decisions that doomed average, yet capable, talent.
What I expect - As I look upon our team and our history and our schedule I expect a ton of more of the same. No team has ever repeated as NFCS Champs and I don't expect us to break that seal this year.
We have never had back to back winning season. I am one that believes that teams fortunes are decided on the lines. Atlanta went from NFCC contender to crap because of two bad lines. Seattle took home the crown because of two very good ones. The perennial achievers have great line play. The Superbowl champions have excellent line play. We field the worst offensive tackle talent in the league and our guards are a group of crossed fingers and talk of "potential". If the line is bottom 5, as it appears today, then it doesn't matter what talent lines up behind it.
We will be a tough out for any team that faces us but I predict an 8-8 year. Prolonging our ignoble history of no back to back winning season. The good news is we will best the Falcons and come in 3rd in the division and we will expose New Orleans so they don't win a legitimate Superbowl.
I will root for my team like crazy. I hope I am horribly wrong and Rivera, Bell, Chandler, Stewart, Benjamin, and the secondary exceed my expectation. But each and every one of them have something to prove to me! I truly hope they do. I would love to write a mea culpa in December. But I am one that would rather be pleasantly surprised than soul crushingly disappointed.
I love this team and this sport more than most anything in the world. While an 8-8 prognostication may seem like "hating" to some it isn't. Like Gettleman, I am willing to have another average year if it builds to us being a dynasty later. I honestly believe he expected last year to be a down year in rebuilding, too, and our great, feisty young team refused to quit! Maybe they do the same this year. I will be annoying my family each game day with applause and screams to urge them on when and if they do.