Carolina Panthers: Not just a fantasy in 2012
When the Carolina Panthers used the first overall pick of the 2o11 draft on Cam Newton, they expected him to perform immediately. Newton set the stats board on fire making fantasy owners ecstatic as he cruised to Rookie of the Year honors. The Panthers however; were hampered by the worst defensive line in the league and only managed to win 6, missing the playoffs for the third year in a row. Dismal as a 6-10 record may be, it was a marked improvement for a team that went 2 and 14 the year before. The 2012 Panthers want to make one thing very clear this year, the only victories they are interested in won’t be happening on a computer.
If Cam Newton is the reason for the turn around of the Panthers offense then Coach Ron Rivera has to be given credit for any improvements on defense in 2012. Rivera’s defensive pedigree is legendary but did little to vitalize his team last season. Coach Rivera can get the job done, he has done it before. A close loss to the Buccaneers and a victory of the Drew Brees and the Saints indicate the Panthers D maybe buying what their coach is selling. The Monsters of the Midway alum is only in his Sophomore season as a head coach, so expect Carolina’s defense to climb the NFL’s power rankings over the course of the season.
Carolina lost four games in 2011 by a touchdown or less. When they did win they usually blew out their opponents. Excluding the six games the Panthers lost by more than a touchdown last year and splitting the four they lost by a TD or less, Carolina is an 8-8 team in 2012. With a Ron Rivera defense, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, and one of the best receivers in the game, the Panthers only need to win four games more than they did in 2011 to be a 10-6 team.
The NFC South is strong this year but can be won with a 10-6 record. The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both looking strong early in the season. Drew Brees and the Sean Payton-less Saints look lost, leaving the division they have owned in recent years up for grabs. Carolina’s best hope for the playoffs is to stay as close to .500 the first half of the season then make a move late in the season. With a week six bye the Panthers are going to have to conserve players if they hope to make a late season push.
By week 13 if Carolina can be 6-6 or even better 7-6 their only challenge at this point would appear to be Atlanta. Some Analysts and fans would argue the San Diego Chargers should not be overlooked but the bolts are notorious the last few seasons for being the trendy pick at the start of the season who implodes down the stretch. Barring major changes, neither Chiefs, the Raiders, or the Saints will be able to inflict any stress on the Panthers. It may be early in the 2012 season but the Panthers already know their destiny is theirs to control this year. Whether they are a team on the crux of greatness or a team headed for the basement is up to them. Carolina is a team determined to find real success much to the chagrin of fantasy owners everywhere.
Andy Plumlee is an NFL writer for The Penalty Flag and can be contacted at APlumlee@The PenaltyFlagBlog.com.