Panthers improve in 2011, still finish below .500

Editorial Staff

Well guys we have less than a few hours until the NFL regular season officially kicks off as the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers take on the New Orleans Saints in Green Bay.

So to kick off this exciting day, I have finally gotten around to writing my official Carolina Panthers season prediction column. My fellow Cat Crave writers, Slate and Seth, have both wrote their prediction columns, you can find Slate’s here and you can find Seth’s here, so without further ado, lets begin.

You know it was just three years ago that the Panthers won the NFC South but my oh my does that seem like a century ago. The team finished 12-4 on the year, won the division but lost to the team it is facing Sunday 33-13. Many folks remember tat as the beginning of the end for quarterback Jake Delhomme, as Delhomme threw five interceptions in route to the team’s worst playoff lost in history to the Arizona Cardinals.

I was at the game. I remember being so excited, especially after the Panthers drove down and scored on the team’s first possession. But it was all down hill from there and that seemed to roll over into the next two seasons. After Delhomme’s implosion on January the 10th, 2009, the Panthers have won just 10 games, eight in 2009 and two in 2010, not even reaching the team’s win total of 2008.

Not exactly great football. But you know what is crazy, 16 players that were on that 2008 team remain on this years team. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot but take this into consideration. Of those 16 players that played with the Panthers in 2008, 12 of them were regular starters that helped the team win 12 games and now all of them are integral parts to this 2011 team, with 15 of them slated as opening day starters.

Those players are Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, Geoff Hangartner, Ryan Kalil, Jeff Otah, Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson, Jon Beason, James Anderson, Chris Gamble, Charles Godfrey, Jason Baker and Dan Connor.

So it is not like this team has a bunch of bums on it.  I know last year’s

season has left a sour taste in many people’s mouths but this team has players that are more than capable of winning ball games.

When you look at it, Steve Smith was the team’s leading receiver, the offensive line is pretty much exactly the same with the arrival of Hangartner, same goes for the linebacking core if you slide in Anderson for Na’il Diggs. Williams and Stewart were the team’s leading rushers back in 2008, both going over 1,100 yards for the season and ‘Double Trouble’ is back this year and finally healthy.

This team has some players and I think it is going to surprise some people this season. I am not saying that it is going to finish 12-4 and win the NFC South, but they will have a much better showing in 2011 then they did in 2010.

The X-Factor will be Cam Newton. Today to win and be good in the NFL you have to have a above average quarterback. Newton may become that, but he isn’t there yet. Being  just a rookie, Newton still has a lot to learn but he is freaky athletic, a natural born leader and has a huge arm. Those three qualities right there will keep Carolina in a lot of games this year and will even win a few.

Yes, there are going to be bumbs and bruises here and there, mixed in with the occasional blowout. This team is still extremely young, the third youngest in the league in fact, so there are going to be a good amount of losses especially early on while the team is learning. This team has to learn how to play with a new quarterback who has a unique set of skills, learn a completely new offensive and defensive system, all while playing the league’s toughest schedule of the year.

But they will be better, that I can guarantee.

So my prediction for the Panther this season is 6-10. There will be a lot of signs of improvement, but the youth of this team and a new coaching staff will hurt them early in the season, as the team wins maybe two or three games before the week nine bye. However, the team will slowly improve over the course of the season and rally late in the season, picking up momentum, to finish at a respectable and much improved 6-10.

How do you think the Panthers will finish? More wins, less wins? Give us your prediction for the 2011 season and we will see who ends up being correct.