NFL Preview: Bounce Back Season for the Carolina Panthers?

The Carolina Panthers were a 60 to 1 shot to win Super Bowl 50 in the 2015-2016 NFL Season. After beating Seattle 31 to 24 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, and then beating Arizona 49 to 15 in the NFC Conference Championship, the Panthers became the favorites to win Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos.

Carolina lost Super Bowl L 10 to 24. It wasn’t a great showing for Carolina. What happened last season? The Panthers imploded. In no way did Carolina resemble the team that almost won the Lombardi Trophy in the 2016 Super Bowl. Carolina didn’t even sniff the playoffs.

Carolina Panthers 2017 Preview

Are the Panthers due for a rebound this NFL Season? Keep reading to check out my Carolina Panthers 2017 preview!

It All Starts with QB Cam Newton

QB Cam Newton won the NFL MVP for the 2015-2016 NFL Season. He deserved it. That season, Cam threw 35 TD passes to only 10 interceptions. He rushed for 10 TDs. Cam averaged 4.8 yards per rush.

But, there were signs that maybe Cam wasn’t as solid as so many believed he was. In 6 seasons in the NFL, Newton has only completed 60% of his passes or more twice. During his rookie season, Cam completed 60% of his passes. In the 2013-2014 NFL Season, Newton completed 61.7% of his passes.

How many passes did Cam complete in 2015-2016, Carolina’s Super Bowl season? Cam only completed 59.8% of his passes that season.  Last season was Cam’s worst in the NFL based on completion percentage. He completed a ridiculously low 52.9%. His TD to INT ratio was a less than stellar 19 to 14.

Cam’s yards per per pass attempt were also the lowest of his career. He averaged 6.9 yards per pass attempt. He rushed for 4.0 yards per carry. Again, a low for his career. He rushed for only 5 TDs, which tied the 2014-2015 NFL Season for the lowest number of rushing TDs for his career. He also rushed for 359 yards, which was the lowest of his career by 180 yards.

For me, the key is Cam’s completion percentage. It appears that either Cam has slowed down, or defenses have discovered how to defend against his many skills.

Either way, Cam must start completing a higher percentage than even 60%. He should be around 62% to 63%. He’s going to have to be around that completion percentage for the Panthers to have any shot at making it to the playoffs.

Can RB Christian McCaffrey Jump Start the Panthers’ Offense?

Unlike so many other teams in the NFL that made poor choices in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Panthers made the exact right choice by going with former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.

The son of former Denver Bronco wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, Christian dominated Pac 12 defenses while playing for the Cardinal. He rushed for 3,922 yards off 623 attempts. That’s a 6.2 per carry average. McCaffrey only played 3 seasons. He only had 42 carries his freshman year. Production like that is incredible.

How many TD’s did McCaffrey score in college? He rushed for 21 TDs. He caught 10 TD passes. Christian had 99 receptions during college for 1,206 yards. Based on that type of production, the Jaguars took LSU RB Leonard Fournette too early.

But, Carolina? The Panthers took McCaffrey with the 8th pick in the draft. McCaffrey is the type of player that can help Cam get back to his dominating ways. McCaffrey is so good that Carolina considered drafting up just so nobody else might take him.

McCaffrey’s game is much more suited to today’s NFL than Fournette’s. He’s not a ground and pound type running back. He uses exceptional quickness and lateral movement to juke defenders one-on-one.

Just Google “Christian McCaffrey Jukes Luke Kuechly” and check out what I mean. The kid could single-handedly help raise Cam’s completion percentage.  That’s how incredible he’s looked in training camp, and that’s how great his hands are.

Christian McCaffrey is the best gift the Carolina Panthers could have given to their former NFL MVP quarterback.

Biggest Question for Carolina:  What’s Up with the Defense?

In 2016, Carolina’s defense played well during the second half of the season. I believe the reason why is because former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who employs a zone coverage in his secondary, finally got his fellas to play his brand of football. The light bulb went off for more than one Carolina Panther defensive player in 2016.

But, the light might not go off at all this season. The Buffalo Bills hired McDermott away from Carolina to be their head coach. Is that going to affect how well the Carolina Panthers play defense?

It’s a legitimate question. Let’s not forget that in addition to Cam Newton, the NFC South also sports QB Drew Brees in New Orleans, a sure-fire hall of famer, QB Matt Ryan in Atlanta, also likely to get a bust in Canton, and up and coming quarterback Jameis Winston at Tampa Bay.

It’s essential that Carolina finds a way to stop those 3 quarterbacks from going nuts in every single divisional game in 2017.

That’s why losing McDermott is so important. Yes, McDermott learned a lot from head coach Ron Rivera. Yes, McDermott had the players at Carolina. But, let’s not kid ourselves, McDermott’s defensive strategy is unique to the league.

Luckily for Panthers’ fans, new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has said he’s not going to change anything on the defense. The scheme should stay the same. Makes sense. The old cliche is why change something if it isn’t broken.

Still, it remains to be seen if Wilks is as effective calling defensive plays during game days as McDermott was. Wilks served as Ron Rivera’s assistant head coach last season. Head coaches have different responsibilities from coordinators. We’ll see if Wilks is able to keep Carolina’s defense playing at an optimum level.

2017-2018 Carolina Panthers Schedule

By October 13 we’re going to know if the Carolina Panthers have what it takes to make the playoffs. Carolina’s early season schedule is ridiculously difficult. Sure, the Panthers should beat up the San Francisco 49’ers on the road in Week 1.

But, after that? If Carolina is better this season, we’ll find out quickly!

On September 17, the Buffalo Bills come to town. Buffalo has some talent. We should also expect that their head coach, Mr. McDermott, has them fired up to battle the Panthers in Carolina.

After Buffalo, Carolina is at home versus New Orleans. New Orleans is never an easy out for the Carolina Panthers. Two brutal road games follow:  at New England on Oct. 1, and at Detroit on Oct. 8. Then, it’s Philly at home, Chicago on the road, Tampa Bay on the road, Atlanta at home, and Miami at home.

Carolina’s bye isn’t until Week 11. It’s difficult to know exactly how many games Carolina loses under this scenario. The Panthers could lose anywhere from 6 games to 9 games. That’s the way I see it. At 10 and 6, they can win the NFC South. At 7 and 9, they shouldn’t make the NFC Playoffs.

Carolina Panthers Super Bowl 52 Odds

Carolina is at 33 to 1 to win Super Bowl 52. Are those fair odds? It’s difficult to tell. If you believe that the addition of RB Christian McCaffrey to the offense helps Cam raise his completion percentage, 33 to 1 odds might be great. But, if you don’t believe Cam raises his completion percentage no matter what, 33 to 1 odds are too low.

There’s also the question of how Steve Wilks calls an NFL game. He might be great at calling defensive plays during the game. Or, it might not be Wilks’s strong suit.

There are far more questions than answers for the Carolina Panthers this season. The NFC South figures to be one of the deepest divisions in football. Carolina’s got a tough road ahead before they even make it to their bye in Week 11.

I don’t think the Panthers are a great bet to win Super Bowl 52 at 33 to 1.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson

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