Carolina Panthers to take a step in the right direction
Generally speaking, most NFL fans outside of the Carolina’s don’t care one way or the other what happens to the Carolina Panthers. However, ever since Cam Newton exploded onto the scene in 2011 with a record-breaking rookie campaign, the team has become a bit more interesting, and many have figured it’s only a matter of time before success follows popularity. So will this be the year that Cam’s Panthers break through? Let’s take a look at some key factors and predictions.
The young Panthers QB has become a bona fide star in the league, and despite what many saw as a “sophomore slump” in 2012, Newton actually showed improved discipline in the second half of the season, when the Panthers went on a bit of a run. He’s still a top-5 fantasy QB, a touchdown machine, and talented enough to lead what could well be a top-10 offense in 2013. He may have been bashed a bit by the media, and even fallen out of the top 25 jersey sales at NFLshop.com, but Cam can and will get it done.
The receiving corps is good, but not great in Carolina. Steve Smith can still get it done, and will remain Cam Newton’s #1 target. Beyond the veteran Smith, Brandon LaFell showed flashes in 2012 of capitalizing on his obvious ability, and Domenik Hixon could be a handy addition. Plus, there’s always solid TE Greg Olsen to help out in short-range.
At a glance, the Carolina RB situation looks fairly dire. At most fantasy sites, no Carolina RB is even ranked in the top 25 at the position; at Betfair.com, no Carolina RB has better than 100/1 odds to lead the league in rushing. However, the position may be stronger than many suspect, and oddly enough it’s due to an injury to the talented Jonathan Stewart. The bottom line is, the DeAngelo Williams/Stewart platoon has held both players back, and with the load squarely on his shoulders (with the exception of Mike Tolbert’s utility in goal line situations), Williams could have a very strong year. Plus, when you factor in Cam’s rushing, this team is very deadly on the ground.
This defensive unit is slowly turning into a pretty good one. Charles Johnson can still get it done, Luke Kuechly had a convincing rookie campaign, and newcomer Star Lotulelei should bring in immediate help. The problem is with the secondary, where the Panthers essentially have 0 noteworthy talents (which could be a problem in a division stacked with elite QBs). In fact, the secondary is the only unit on this team that truly looks to provide potential for disaster.
Prediction: The Panthers will have games in which their defense gets torched and Cam Newton can’t find open targets. The division is tough, and winning it is probably beyond the Panthers’ capabilities. But this team should take a step in the right direction, and will finish 9-7, a fringe playoff contender.