I love sports. LOVE them. I always have. If it was a field of play, I found refuge on it as a kid. And while I loved playing the game, and always felt that my team could win, I had the opposite feeling when watching my favorite sports teams. Regardless of how successful my teams were, something about having no involvement while having my hopes so thoroughly invested in an entity made me agnostic. For better or worse, I am the level-headed fan.
We are an odd lot. While others around us brag and boast of our favorite team’s success, we allow only a cautious optimism to exist at the height of our fellow fans’ glee. While I avoid the word “pessimistic” to describe my fandom, I evaded the withering heights of jubilation that other Panthers fans experienced last year. I felt that with the moves the team had made, the previous season’s process of learning to win close games, and the season’s layout, that 11 wins was an appropriate figure (they finished the season with a dozen). Many thought that I was simply experiencing pre-season idealism, but I am not prone to such unfounded flights of fancy. It was a calculated estimation based on what I saw from the team, and what I knew about football.
It is with this sports ideology that I say: I don’t think the Panthers are going to make the playoffs this year. It’s a troubling conclusion to come to, and I certainly hope that I am wrong (especially with so many friends who are fans of the other NFC South teams); but those same calculations that gave me reason to hope for a double-digit win total at this time last year, lead me to believe that this team won’t fare as well. Obviously it is still early in preseason, and more threats on offense could emerge (Kenjon Barner and Brandon Williams have tantalized fans with their potential), but without real weapons on offense I can’t see us generating sufficient support that the defense and special teams will need.
Make no question about my loyalties, as much as I detest being wrong (I loathe the annual event); I abhor watching my teams lose. But look at the offenses the team will have to do battle with this season.
The Panthers take on the NFC North. The Packers racked up the 8th most points in the league last year, and as long as they have arguably the best quarterback in the game (and a healthy Eddie Lacy for the duration of the year) they don’t look to have much trouble scoring the ball. Chicago has the best wide receiver tandem in the league and combines that with the most versatile running back (Matt Forte) playing professional football. And while Minnesota was mediocre in points per game last year, their QB position should be solidified once Teddy Bridgewater gets behind the helm of an offense with LOADS of potential (look for Cordarelle Patterson to compete with Adrian Peterson for most jaw-dropping playing by a Viking this season).
The team will be consistently outgunned next year. Only four of Carolina’s opponents next year averaged fewer points per game than the Panthers; and that was before the team jettisoned its wide receivers. Nothing short of a superhuman effort from Cam Newton and the defense will keep this season from being a comparative disappointment to last year’s division title run.
So what do I do? As much as I eagerly anticipate the football season, I dread watching the Panthers struggle. In the Chinese finger trap of NFL fandom, I can only hope to be wrong.