In today's USA Today, the publications predicted the final records for every team in the NFL and the Carolina Panthers were picked to finish 7-9.
I'm not too upset about that. I think they will win between 6 to 10 games. BUT to say they will finish last in the NFC South is a little LOCO! This team will not finish last in this division.
I think all 4 squads have improved but on paper, the Panthers are a better football team than New Orleans. I think both Carolina and Tampa will battle for a Wildcard spot and I still think the Falcons are the best team in this division. Then again, there is that Super Bowl hangover and the Panthers know it is VERY REAL so maybe the Falcons take a tiny step back.
I think much of this shade is due to the health of QB Cam Newton. How will his arm be after March surgery on a torn rotator cuff? We will get our first visual proof Wednesday when the Panthers hit the practice field for the first time at Wofford for the start of training camp.
What will we see? I think we will see a solid Cam who won't be dropping bombs right away but will build back up the strength in that arm and will be ready to go by opening day on September 10th when the Panthers pay a visit to the San Francisco 49ers.
Some of the shade may be because of the Panthers offensive line. Why give left tackle Matt Kalil all that money in free agency when he is going to stink up the joint? Who is going to play right tackle now that Michael Oher is gone? I for one am not worried about this O-line. With one of the best line coaches in the league and solid Pro Bowlers in Ryan Kalil and Trai Turner, this unit will not only be fine, it will be a strength.
Maybe this shade is because of the lack of a pass rush. Are Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson just too old? Is Mario Addison just a situational rusher? I say, this line has depth and while no, there isn't a dominate pass rusher, they will hit you in waves with depth.
And don't forget, they still have Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the middle taking up double teams to help the pass rush. And in Short's case, can still get to the QB. The sacks will come but more importantly, the QB pressures will happen and that will play into what this defense wants to ultimately do. Force teams into mistakes and get them to turn the ball over. I honestly think this D will be at the least, top 10 in the NFL when it is all said and done.
As long as this team gets out of training camp with no major injures and remains pretty much healthy thru the season, the Panthers will battle for a playoff spot.
The beauty about preseason predictions, they mean absolutely nothing once that first football is kicked off in week 1. Just gives us something to talk about and actually provides fuel for teams to prove folks wrong.
In the history of the Carolina Panthers, this franchise has thrived when nothing was expected of them. So you say they will finish last in the NFC South. Well, if the Panthers find themselves in Minnesota in February of 2018 in the Super Bowl, fans can look back and thank USA Today and other "experts" for the extra motivation.