Expectations are a funny thing.

One year ago the Carolina Panthers were in much the same shape from the outside looking in as they are now. Coming off of an unique Covid-19 offseason where a lot of talented were signing one year deals in hopes of riding out the wave of the virus, no team had seemed to benefit more than that small team from Charlotte. Headlining such acquisitions were DE Morgan Fox, DE/LB Haason Reddick, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Frankie Luvu, CB A.J. Bouye. All of those players would go on to start next year, some of them Pro Bowlers.

Those players joined in-house talent like LB Shaq Thompson, DE Brian Burns, CB Donte Jackson, DT Derrick Brown, DE Yeter Gross-Matos, SS Jeremy Chinn. All household names that we have come to know and cherish. Superstars in the Carolina. We were so stacked in the regular season on defense, there was no way we were going to miss the playoffs. Nobody can stop us now!

And then the regular season hit and something happened. The offensive line, long-known by Panther loyalists as the weakest part of the team, utterly fell apart at the seams. The same line that had ended Cam Newton's career before his time, that had utterly devoured Teddy Bridgewater, finally reached its peak and final form and crushed the remains of innocent Sam Darnold's spirit. A poor boy that had been lured over from the Jets with false promises of something better, just to get killed by more of the same. All of those dreams of a deep run into the playoffs led by a suffocating defense that crushed all that stood in its way melted away upon the realization that our team couldn't score. And once Christian McCaffrey got injured by overuse, we realized the futility of our efforts. That despite having such a great talent in our superior defense, we could not bail out our greatest weakness in our offensive line.

Let's be frank. One of our wins was against the Houston Texans who had just finished being run into the dirt by Bill O'Brian. Another was against the Saints, whose entire coaching staff got sick with Covid the week running up into the game. Another win was against the Jets, one of the worst teams in football led by a spoiled brat for a rookie QB. We were *LUCKY* to do 5 wins out of that group despite all the talent we had.

But moving into 2022, everything has changed. For once, the Carolina Panthers have gone out and addressed what was wrong with the team instead of kicking the can down the road, changing the names on the product, and pretending everything is going to be alright while dealing with the same problems again next year. Not a single starter on that 2021 offensive line will be returning in 2022. They will be replaced with high quality veterans alongside the best OT in the 2022 draft to protect Sam Darnold's blind side. The weakest link in 2022 has become the Panthers greatest strength. And no matter what happens next year, we at least know that it's not going to be the same. The NFL is won in the trenches. And the Carolina Panthers are stacked.

The expectations for 2022 is nothing short of this: We must make the playoffs by either winning the division outright or getting in through the wildcard. Anything less is a supreme disappointment. Rosters this balanced overall doesn't come around all that often. The Saints are terrible and are in cap hell. The Falcons traded away Matt Ryan and have a horrible defense full of Power Ranger Puddies. The only thing standing in our way is an ancient carcass reanimated by the devil in Tom Brady whom rules over the NFL South at the heist of the hateful brigands known as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And if anyone is going to stop us from having our way, it's going to be the mistake that David Tepper made from the very beginning when he flew down to New York on that fateful day and scornfully tossed away the sound advice from his well-paid hiring agency to go rogue on his own and get someone that wasn't even on the radar. The Original Sin that the Panthers committed way back in the beginning, before this new team had a chance to be given life under new ownership.

The hiring of this guy. Matt. Fucking. Rhule.

((insert a dumb picture of Matt Rhule here))

There has been no hiring so blatantly hilarious as him and no greater weight upon the team than he with the exception of Quarterback. Until the hiring of Fitterer, he was responsible for all sorts of nonsense and even though he has clearly lost his roster making responsibilities to Mr. Fitterer, who by all accounts has done a remarkable job since coming here, it only minimalizes the irksome issues we will have on this team thanks to his continued employment.

Let us make a brief recap. Matt Rhule is responsible for

  • The original firing of Cam Newton for Teddy Bridgewater in 2020.
  • Trading Teddy at the end of the season for a 6th rounder in 2021. Eating over 20 million of guarantees in his bloated contract and trading for Sam Darnold, which cost us a 2nd and 4th round pick.
  • The rehiring of Cam Newton during the 2021 regular season to be the franchise savior, completing a rare feat known as the Quarterback Carousel. I imagine Rhule was the one riding the unicorn.
  • The panic trade for CJ Henderson in-season, made in response to Jaycee Horn getting injured. This cost us a 3rd round pick. He is now projected as the Nickle cornerback to start the season with both Donte Jackson and Jaycee Horn penciled in as starters.
  • Trading Thai Turner, a Pro Bowl Guard, to the Chargers for Okung at OT. A player 5 years his senior and an uncertain future. Okung would go on to play just a handful of games for us in 2020 and immediately retire from the NFL. Thai Turner is still in the league and projected to start with the Washington Commanders.
  • Signing both John Miller G and Pat Elflein G to the team and overpaying them when they were two of the worst guards in the NFL, the worst linemen on the worst offensive lines in the NFL statistically. They would indeed be the worst starters on the offensive line.
  • The trade of Denzel Perryman to the Raiders for a 6th round pick before the regular season in 2021 Citing 'personal differences.' Denzel Perryman would go on to have a Pro Bowl year while the Panther's MLB spot was its weakest link.
  • Both injuries to Christian McCaffrey in 2020/2021, as they were the result of overusing a running back who's not meant to be a cowbell back. Christian McCaffrey would later even admit is much in an interview, citing that the short rest before the Week 3 Thursday night game was a contributing factor towards his injury.
  • Countless dumb statements that showed his lack of understanding of basic talent scouting, such as declaring he didn't consider Rashawn Slater more than a guard due to his arm size and refusing to start Brady Christiansen at Left Tackle all year for the same reason and instead starting an actual guard. Brady Christiansen would get a start near the end of the year and PFF would rank it the best start for a LT for the Panthers for the entire year.
  • Changing playcalls on the field due to whether or not the crowd is cheering for a particular play in key moments.
Needless to say, Matt Rhule has taken over from the OL as the weakest link on this team until he shows us differently. As a coach he leaves little to be desired. The Panthers have underperformed since he's gotten here and have finished with the same number of wins for three consecutive years. As a general manager, good deals are mixed in with baffling personnel decisions that, with the exception of this year, has not allowed the roster to progress from a average roster to a better roster.

All eyes will be on coach Rhule this season to see whether or not he can truly lead the Panthers to greatness and make the best of this roster he's been given. With the recent acquisitions on the offensive line and the weakness in the division, there is no reason that the Panthers cannot be good this year and at least finish with a winning record. If the Panthers cannot even manage that with a roster this good, then Matt Rhule isn't the guy. It was already questionable enough to keep him this year, but I don't see how we ever win a Super Bowl if the team falters again despite the roster being so good.

With a complete roster on both sides of the ball, I expect that the season will be decided by how far he can take us. The front office has done the best that they can. In fact, they've done better than we all thought.

The rest is up to him now.

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