After receiving no love in one power ranking after another, the Carolina Panthers can finally say that there is someone out there who feels as if they are capable of something in ’08!
What If Sports, one of the absolute coolest sites anywhere on the web, has done a preview of the season division by division. They performed their preview using a complex system of statistics, fantasy projections and probably a slide ruler or two.
The long and short of it is this – they project the winner of the NFC South to be the Carolina Panthers.
Why did it take so long?
I’ve read countless articles across the net saying things like “The Panthers are flying under the radar.” They also make a point of talking more about the Saints, their overrated running backs and what many think will be a vastly improved defense. I hate to disappoint them but defense is a foreign thing in New Orleans. When I see them playing much improved defense, I’ll believe it.
Others are still on the Jon “Chucky” Gruden/Tampa Bay Buccaneers bandwagon. They’ll point to the fact that the Bucs won the division last year. What they forget is that the Bucs have won the division twice since the division realignment only to have a losing season the following year both times.
We all know about the Falcons, don’t we? What a mess that is! Not only is it a consensus that Atlanta will struggle to win games this year, but it’s a pretty safe bet that they don’t get in the win column more than 2 or 3 times.
That’s what brings us to the Panthers. Call me a homer. Tell me I’m wearing the Carolina Blue sunglasses. Accuse me of drinking the John Fox Kool-Aid. I’m certain that the Panthers are no worse than any team in their division. Not only that but they are as capable of winning the NFC South as any team in it – including the Bucs and the Saints.
The guys at What If Sports have come up with this – Panthers 10-6, Saints 8-8, Bucs 8-8, Falcons 5-11.
In fact, they go so far as to say that the Panthers could win as many as 13 games. WOW! I had said something about the schedule before but they also make mention of it.
Biggest Strength: The Schedule – We could say it about every team in this division for 2008. They all get to play the Bears, Chiefs, Lions and Raiders, not to mention that three of them play the Falcons twice. The middle of this schedule – Week 4 through Week 15 – should allow this team to get on a big roll. They will cut their teeth at San Diego and at Minnesota, but then it is smooth sailing until a trip to face the Giants. By then, they could easily be 12-2 and may not even need that game.
I’m not sure I agree with them when they say they think it’s the biggest strength for the team but it certainly helps a lot to play a schedule like they have this season. I think the biggest strength this season could wind up being the passing game. They had a few thoughts on that as well.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Passing Game – This is an injury concern far more than a talent concern. Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and new #2 wide receiver D.J. Hackett all have histories of missing games or playing at far less than 100%. When healthy and at the peaks these players have shown over the years, this may actually be a strength. It’s just too much of a concern to gloss over.
Here is where they lose me for a minute. Sure, Jake’s elbow was sliced and diced by surgeons. Sure, Steve Smith has missed some time on the field. The media are funny like that. They will talk endlessly about something negative and ignore the positives. How about how Jake was on a roll like we had never seen from him before getting hurt last year? How about how Steve Smith is an unstoppable player when he’s healthy and how he’s really only missed significant playing time once in his career?
The additions to the passing game have many fans rightfully excited about the possibilities. We should be. Jake and the receivers can prove a lot of the doubters wrong.
Here are some thoughts on one of the big additions to the roster.
Most Significant Newcomer: Jonathan Stewart, RB – Just when DeAngelo Williams thought he would get his chance to be the man, Carolina drafted a bigger, stronger, NFL-ready version of him in the first round. Williams is probably capable of fulfilling the starting role for an NFL team, but he will be great again in the two-back system. Stewart is a monster who can even catch the ball and return kicks if needed. The only real concern with him is a foot injury, yet the Panthers’ doctor performed his surgery. Carolina added some great pieces to its defense, yet we are going with the dynamic rookie who we already picked as the league’s best for 2008.
They picked J-Stew as the Rookie of the Year. Great. That’s a lot of pressure for the kid but I think he’s set to have a very solid season behind one of the biggest offensive lines in the league.
They call this a do-or-die season for the Panthers and go on to say that they will “do.” I think the Panthers will too.