Despite making the play-offs in 2017, the Carolina Panthers had an up and down season. The Panthers won seven out of eight games from week 8 onwards which guaranteed them their first play-off place since losing to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. Carolina ended up 2nd in their division with a 11-5 record behind New Orleans, and indeed it was the Saints who knocked Carolina out of the play-offs with a 31-26 victory in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
The Panthers are anything but a one man team but the fate of this franchise lies solely in the hands of their enigmatic leader, Cam Newton. Love him or loathe him, Super Cam is a huge figure on and off the field in the NFL. The Panthers are virtually unstoppable when Newton is on fire. The 2015 league MVP played in all 16 regular season games in the 2017 season as he bounced back from a relatively poor 2016 campaign. Unfortunately for Newton, his 2017 season will also be remembered for his infamous press conference early in the season where he ended up embroiled in a sexism row after commenting that it was “funny to hear a female talking about routes” in response to a female reporter asking the Quarterback a question with regards to Wide Receiver routes. Hopefully, in 2018, the only off-field discussions involving the former 1st Round Draft pick will be on what attire he decides to show up in for his press conferences.
CJ Anderson has teamed up with Christian McCaffrey in the Panthers backfield and Carolina will be looking for CJ to fill the void left by Jonathon Stewart’s departure. Despite not having the skill set of his younger teammate, Anderson should still take more than his fair share of the hand-offs as he will look to continue the form he showed in flashes in Denver in 2017 as he finally broke the 1000 yards rushing for the first time in the NFL. With new Offensive Coordinator in charge, Norv Turner, both Running Backs should see plenty of the ball.
Wide Receiver has also been bolstered with the addition of Torrey Smith from Philadelphia and 1st round draft pick DJ Moore. And let’s not forget about Cam Newton’s security blanket; Tight End and Panther legend, Greg Olsen. It’s no coincidence that the Panthers form towards the end of the season improved once the Tight End had returned to the starting line up after a broken foot kept him out of seven games.
Luke Kuechly remains one of the premier Linebackers in the NFL and the Panthers will have been delighted to see one of their star men back on the field of play after two previous injury ravaged seasons. Kuechly’s long term partner, Thomas Davis, will be missing the first four games due to substance abuse has already announced that the 2018 season will be his last. Fortunately, Carolina have a ready made replacement for Davis in Shaq Thompson who has already impressed in his two seasons in North Charlotte. When Davis returns after his suspension, the trio of Linebackers mentioned above is one of the best sets in the league.
Ever since the loss of Josh Norman prior to the 2016 season, the Panthers have added (via the Draft or Free Agency) an eye-popping nine Cornerbacks and in the 2018 Draft, it was Donte Jackson who was drafted in the 2nd round. Expect the former LSU man to be an instant starter in the Pass heavy NFC South.
As for the rest of the Defense; Dontari Poe was added during Free Agency after a season with fellow NFC South rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, and he should form a formidable Defensive Tackle partnership with Kawann Short. The great Julius Peppers was also re-signed for another season as he continues to break records through the twilight of his glorious career.
So what chances of a return to the play-offs for Carolina? Well, as mentioned above, if Cam Newton is on song then expect them to be in amongst the contenders come the end of the season. If not, then don’t be surprised if the Panthers replace the Buccaneers as the bottom dwellers for the 2018 NFC South.
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