Panthers: contenders or pretenders in 2017-18?

Panthers: contenders or pretenders in 2017-18?
July 27
02:00 2017

The Carolina Panthers are coming off of a tumultuous 2016 season that totally fell short of expectations. 

Going into last year they were Super Bowl contenders that were beaten by the Denver Broncos in the previous year’s Super Bowl.  Injuries, concussions and dissension in the locker room all contributed to a lack luster 6-10 record.

With training camp starting up for NFL teams in a few weeks, the Panthers are looking to return to their 2015 form and forget about last season.  Cam Newton is healthy once again after off-season shoulder surgery and Luke Kuechly is fully healthy after missing the final six games of last year dealing with concussions.  The Panthers also fared well in this year’s draft by taking, by most accounts, the most versatile player in the draft, running back Christian McCaffrey, out of Stanford University in the first round.

The Panthers did not make a big splash in the off-season by spending on big named free agents but chose instead to sign home grown products Jonathan Stewart and Kawaan Short to contract extensions.  They even brought back one-time Panther and fan favorite Julius Peppers.

One perplexing side note is the timing of the firing of former general manager Dave Gettleman recently.  The timing is odd  because the team held on to Gettleman throughout most of the off-season allowing him to sign free agents and be a part of the draft process.  Most front office moves are made earlier than later to establish stability going into free agency and the draft.

I don’t believe that the firing of Gettleman is a negative in this case as many former Panthers such as Josh Norman, Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams have expressed their dislike for how they were handled before leaving the franchise.  This leads me to think that there may be more players inside the locker room that may feel the same way.

Even with the weird timing of the general manager situation, the Panthers should be poised to contend for a playoff spot and maybe the NFC South crown.  Yes, I know the Atlanta Falcons are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and have probably the most explosive offense in the league with quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and running back tandem of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman.

If the defense plays with some consistency and Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess step up at the receiver position to compliment Greg Olsen, Newton will have open targets to throw to.  The backfield looks to be the strength of the offense with the thunder and lightning combination of Stewart and McCaffrey.  McCaffrey should add a dynamic to their offense similar to what Darren Sproles does for the Philadelphia Eagles with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, spread out to the receiver position and returning kicks for special teams.

The Panthers will have some stiff competition within the NFC South this season as Atlanta and Tampa Bay will be formidable opponents as they both will vie for a playoff spot.  New Orleans will never be a push over with Drew Brees at the helm, either.  Even with that being said, the Panthers should be able to contend with any team in the division as they have kept much of their core together for the past several years.

The Panthers finished last year at 6-10 with many things going wrong and the ball not falling their way most often. With a little more luck, there should be no reason to not expect the Panthers to win double-digit games this season. 

Health will also play a key role in their success as well.  If they can keep their star players upright for most of the season, Panther fans should have much to cheer for this season.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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