What to make of the Carolina Panthers 2017 Season

 By Aaron Wayne White 

January 10, 2018

At the start of the 2017 season, we outlined why we believed the Panthers were heading back to the Playoffs. Fast forward to the end of the season, and we‘re pretty shocked they actually met that goal. The team’s journey to their fourth postseason appearance in five years was riddled with an abundance of challenges and obstacles that nobody could have anticipated.

Much like last year, the Panthers were beset by injuries. In just the second game of the year, Greg Olsen went down with a foot injury. With the exception of Cam Newton, no player is as important to Carolina’s offense as the 11-year veteran, who during the past two seasons led the Panthers in both receptions and receiving yards, and by sizeable margins. Another pair of injuries that diminished the Panthers offensive firepower, though to a much lesser degree, were the losses of Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd. Both were seeing their roles in the offense increase when their seasons were cut short.

Greg Olson. Photo: Alex Cason for CLTure

In October, the Panthers lost yet another offensive piece, but this time it wasn’t due to injury. In a surprising move, interim GM Marty Hurney decided to trade Kelvin Benjamin, who was the team’s first round pick in 2014. While Benjamin wasn’t quite living up to his potential as a star receiver, he was still producing solid numbers, and his departure made an already unreliable receiving core even more ineffectual. On top of all of this, in December, news came out about an investigation on Jerry Richardson for workplace misconduct, and hours after a Sports Illustrated article was published, the Panthers announced they will be selling the franchise after the end of season, sending the internet into a frenzy.  

Kelvin Benjamin and Thomas Davis. Photo: Alex Cason at Fan Fest 2017 for CLTure

The lack of playmakers on offense was certainly the biggest limitation for Carolina on the field, and their backbreaking schedule only made that weakness more obvious. The Panthers took on a playoff team in 8 of their 16 regular season games, a remarkable feat owed in large part because they competed in the toughest division in the NFL. The Falcons and Saints accompanied the Panthers to the postseason, making the NFC South the first division with three teams qualifying for the playoffs since 2013.

In spite of all this–the injuries, the questionable personnel moves, the grueling schedule and the stacked division, Carolina still managed to make the postseason. If 2016 is defined as a year where the Panthers greatly underachieved, then 2017 should be remembered as a season in which they greatly overachieved. This season, particularly after the Week 7 loss to Chicago, seemed to be destined for mediocrity. Many fans envisioned a six or seven win year, with the Panthers settling back into NFL purgatory after yet another season where the team wouldn’t be good enough to make the playoffs, but wouldn’t be bad enough to get a high draft pick.

Cam Newton. Photo: Alex Cason for CLTure

However, the team did more with less, and made something out of the season. They finished with a respectable 11-6 record, though that mark is a bit more bittersweet when you consider that three of those six losses are to the same team (and a division rival). Nevertheless, the 2017 season should definitely be a source of renewed optimism for fans across the Carolinas, for many reasons. Christian McCaffrey looked solid in his rookie campaign. Second year corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley are far from perfect, but they still seem to be improving with each game.

The priority for Carolina in the offseason is simple: get more weapons for Cam Newton, and keep improving the O-line and secondary. This 2017 Draft has amounted to a hollow victory for the Panthers. While McCaffery seems to have been a solid pick, quality players such as Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kareem Hunt were available in later rounds, and defensive backs like Adoree Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, and Malik Hooker were still on the board. Although the offensive line and secondary have improved, they still need an upgrade in talent in both areas, and even with Samuel and Byrd back next season, Cam needs more playmakers.

Christian McCaffrey. Photo: Alex Cason for CLTure

The future of ownership may be unclear for the Panthers franchise, but one thing is clear, we’re not too far from getting back to Super Bowl aspirations.

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