Carolina Panthers Predictions
The Carolina Panthers were the best 6-10 team in the NFL last season. They actually outgained opponents in 2011, but time and time again suffered close losses. In fact, six of their 10 defeats came by a touchdown or less. Coming off an excellent year from rookie QB Cam Newton, this is clearly a team on the rise.
Ron Rivera appears to be the man for the job. He helped make the Panthers competitive in his first year as head coach in ’11 following a disastrous ’10 campaign in Carolina. Here is a preview of the personnel he’ll be working with on offense and defense, as well as my prediction on where the Panthers finish in the NFC South in 2012.
After averaging just 12.3 points and 258 total yards per game in ’10, the Panthers put up 25.4 points and 390 total yards per game in ’11. They ranked among the top seven in both statistical categories, and this unit should pick up right where it left off in ’12.
As the No. 1 overall pick in ’11, Newton clearly had some expectations to live up to. Somehow, he managed to exceed them by completing 60.0 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards with 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Newton also finished third on the team in rushing with 706 yards and 14 scores on the ground. He’s the real deal, and already one of the top signal callers in the league.
Carolina has managed to keep perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the league together at running back. DeAngelo Williams (836 yards, 5.4/carry, seven TD) and Jonathan Stewart (761 yards, 5.4/carry, four TD) combined for 34.4 percent of the team’s total offense last season. They can each catch the ball out of the backfield, especially Stewart, who had 47 receptions for 413 yards and a score. The Panthers added FB Mike Tolbert (490 yards, eight TD) from San Diego this offseason, giving them another weapon.
Steve Smith had a huge resurgence last year with Newton throwing him the ball. He finished with 79 receptions for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. Carolina desperately needs another big playmaker to emerge at the position. The options are WR Brandon LaFell (36 receptions, 613 yards, three TD) and WR David Gettis, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. TE Greg Olson (45, 540, five TD) proved to be a solid acquisition last offseason.
Their offensive line is one of the most underrated units in the NFL. Leading the way are three-time Pro Bowl C Ryan Kalil and 10-year veteran LT Jordan Gross. Former first-round RT Jeff Otah has been banged up the last two years after playing very well in his first two seasons in the league. He returns healthy, RG Geoff Hangartner is a returning starter, and the Panthers have added LG Mike Pollak from Indianapolis.
Injuries really took their toll on Carolina’s defense last season. The stop unit surrendered 26.8 points and 378 total yards per game, which forced Newton and company to try and win shootouts week in and week out. This will be one of the most improved defenses in the league in ’12.
The defensive line features two solid pass rushers in DE Greg Hardy (50 tackles, 4 sacks, 11 pass break-ups) and DE Charles Johnson (40 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 9 sacks). However, the play on the interior must improve. DT Terrell McClain (19 tackles, 2.5 for loss) and DT Sione Fua (9 tackles) are expected to start after mediocre rookie seasons. DT’s Ron Edwards and Andre Neblett (23 tackles, 5.5 for loss) add depth.
The most improved unit on the entire team will be the linebacker corps. That’s because MLB John Beason (121 tackles in ’10) returns from a torn Achilles suffered in Week 1 last year. Also, the Panthers used their first-round pick on rookie WLB Luke Kuechly. He was a first-team All-American at Boston College who led the nation in tackles and had an FBS record 34 straight games with double-digit stops. SLB James Anderson (145 tackles, 9 for loss, 11 passes defended) was the leader of the defense last year and returns to join Beason and Kuechly.
After allowing a 98.3 QB rating to opposing quarterbacks, the secondary must improve. It should considering the entire starting defensive backfield returns intact. They are CB Chris Gamble (45 tackles, 12 pass break-ups, three INT), CB Captain Munnerlyn (58 tackles, 3.5 for loss, five pass break-ups), SS Charles Godfrey (84 tackles, seven pass break-ups, two INT) and FS Sherrod Martin (67 tackles, eight pass break-ups, three INT). This is a very young unit that should only get better in the next few years.
NFC South Prediction – 1st Place (9-7 Record)
The NFC South is clearly up for grabs this year. Atlanta will be tough to beat, but New Orleans is dealing with all of the suspensions stemming from the bounty hunting investigation. Carolina outgained opponents last year by 12 yards per game overall, and the offense should be at least as explosive as it was in ’11. The biggest reason I believe the Panthers win this division is a defense that could be the most improved in the entire league. They get their leader Beason back, and rookie Kuechly is a tackling machine. A 9-7 record will be good enough to win this division provided the Panthers get the tiebreaker.
Individual Team NFL Season Predictions
|AFC West||AFC North||AFC South||AFC East|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Pittsburgh Steelers||Indianapolis Colts||New England Patriots|
|San Diego Chargers||Baltimore Ravens||Jacksonville Jaguars||New York Jets|
|Oakland Raiders||Cleveland Browns||Houston Texans||Miami Dolphins|
|Denver Broncos||Cincinnati Bengals||Tennessee Titans||Buffalo Bills|
|NFC West||NFC North||NFC South||NFC East|
|Seattle Seahawks||Chicago Bears||Atlanta Falcons||Philadelphia Eagles|
|St. Louis Rams||Green Bay Packers||New Orleans Saints||New York Giants|
|San Francisco 49ers||Detroit Lions||Tampa Bay Bucs||Dallas Cowboys|
|Arizona Cardinals||Minnesota Vikings||Carolina Panthers Predictions||Washington Redskins|