Panthers motivated to make ‘believers’ in 2018

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers takes the field against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers takes the field against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Beginning Week 1, the Carolina Panthers are set to make history and create “believers” this season…

According to Sports Illustrated, it doesn’t sound like the Carolina Panthers first NFC East game (vs. Dallas, September 9) is TOO tough. As for Carolina fans, to believe the defense can dominate like the last time they played on, ohhh, Thanksgiving 2015, will be waiting for validation. While that Super Bowl year was obviously special overall, that was actually a point where many Charlotte fans *did* begin to believe a big year was happening. While unbeaten to that point, *everybody* knew Dallas, and once the Panthers went in and dominated, winning DID seem more real.

That the Cowboys took a 27-3 beat down from Arizona the week while Panthers starters were putting the Patriots in their place 25-14, well, let that simmer while thinking about a loss to Pittsburgh last week. Although second team-ers took a 39-24 beating while giving up numerous big plays, there was no lack of discipline, offense did put up 24 points, and as Rivera noted, they were evaluating things every step of the way. It’s not poetry, but he does believe in determining matters by what happens on the field.

Good luck to those who will be leaving active rosters, good thoughts for those (like former Charlotte Catholic star, Elijah Hood, who was injured on kickoff at Pittsburgh) and who put themselves in position, like Mose Frazier, to continue their dreams (taxi squads?) because of a very active training camp.

Straight up, you have to like the product Carolina will put on the field , and it’s easy to believe the differences in offense since last year are significant. It has shown exactly the versatility expected with Norv Turner’s arrival- the ball is out of quarterback Cam Newton’s hand quicker, and yes, second-year running back Christian McCaffrey will be a constant threat as a runner or receiving target. The first drive against New England should dispel ANY negatives some harbored about his ability to grind out some three to five yard carries and then nail an 18-yarder at any time. Wide receiver Devin Funchess has amped his physical presence during preseason, is really using his size to shield the pass, and timing elements are much sharper with Newton having a full preseason of throwing.

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There are, and should be, expectations of red zone plays where he and D.J. Moore are asked to go up for a bullet from Newton. Funchess will not have to worry about his value to this offense, now or whenever contract conversation becomes negotiation- he’ll get his stats.

Believe it, when your last team let you go after a 1,007 yard season- and you’re on a one-year, bargain-type contract- you’re playing with a chip on your shoulder.

Running back C.J. Anderson seems to wind up getting discussed as an afterthought too often. If you’re playing on a one year bargain-type contract- and your last team let you go after a 1,007 yard season- you have GOT to be playing with a chip on your shoulder.  Several Panthers backs are shorter types, its when Anderson jacks you under the pads with that 225 pounds you forget the 5-foot-8 and gain an understanding of what stopping him might entail. That’s why McCaffrey said he gained a few pounds, to break arm tackles and keep going. For those who wonder, no, Turner’s offense hasn’t produced two 1,000 rushers in same season.

Wide receiver Curtis Samuel has become a very positive reward for Panthers patience during his injury year. He and Jarius Wright will contribute a mess of yards after the catch (YAC), and the phrase ‘The Panthers haven’t had a real burner since Ted Ginn, Jr. must be deleted from fan conversations and writers’ rationales. Believe that this guy is a jet when he gets loose in the secondary, and any idea the NFL had that Panthers didn’t have anyone who could hurt you long is passed.

In absolute terms, you can believe the Panthers have upgraded in every way.

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That includes giving tight end Greg Olsen the opportunity to impart as much wisdom as possible to rookie Ian Thomas, while probably notching another 1,000 yards receiving himself. Thomas might catch-run better than some evaluators thought- his 27-yard reception for a touchdown versus Miami was a total surprise to a raucous crowd.

If anyone gets under-pumped, its kicker Graham Gano and punter Michael Palardy who are steady performers. Palardy is in his third-year with the Panthers, and was fifth in the league last year with a net 42.4 average (46.0 gross). For those who have witnessed the height on his kicks, you can believe THAT is what it looks like when your gunners make someone signal fair catch.

Gano was 29/30 plus 34 PATs for 121 points and went to the Pro Bowl in 2017 after a disappointing 2016 (30/38, 78.9-percent). It is worth noting that he led the NFL in touchbacks, putting 70/83 in the end zone (84.8-percent) and got a four-year, $17M contract as a result.

He hasn’t been an exceptional long range kicker, although he was 6-6 over 50 yards in 2013, and a 50-plus one in heavy rain against the Colts sealed the game in 2015. He’s a gamer.

Nobody is predicting less than 11-5 and playoffs, certainly not the kind of belly-up, wheels off season that would keep the team’s history of never having two winning years in a row intact. Its not too “gee whiz-maybe if” to believe we beat the Saints once a year vs. none, and the Falcons will always be the guys Carolina wants a piece of during the season.

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This is now regarded as a tough division, and keeping things on the sort of even plane that the organization has shown since the end of last season is a base to go forward from—this really is a team that’s improved and motivated to do better.