September 9, 2017
The Carolina Panthers are returning from one of their most underwhelming seasons in franchise history. With predictions of a fourth straight division title and even back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, the Panthers seemed to be crushed under the weight of their expectations, regressing to a six-win team that was plagued with injuries and an inability to win close games. Players and fans alike are looking for a return to playoff form in 2017, and here are a few reasons we should anticipate that happening:
Superman at Full Strength: Make no mistake about it, the Carolina Panthers success as a team is largely contingent on Cam Newton’s success as a quarterback. No player is as important to the franchise as the seven-year veteran, who is coming off from arguably the worst year of his career. While Newton’s stats were below average, so was his health, as he dealt with a shoulder injury for the later part of the season. Newton had surgery on the shoulder during the offseason, and while he still isn’t 100%, the 2015 NFL MVP looks to be making a sound recovery, which should have Panthers fans rejoicing.
McCaffrey and Samuel Take Pressure Off O-Line: The Panthers 2017 Draft Class is headlined by a pair of versatile playmakers, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. Both can play just about any skill position, adding a dynamic to Panthers offense that the team has never had before. Possibly just as important is the fact that their quickness and diverse skill set will ease the burden on the offensive line, which is undoubtedly the most vulnerable part of the Panthers offense. The rookie duo should lead to less blitzes from the opposing defense as well as providing quality checkdown options for Newton while in the pocket, greatly easing the burden for the O-Line.
Defense Gains Veteran Leadership: Longtime Panthers fans were happy to see both Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn return to the Queen City. But their reunion with the Panthers isn’t just a nostalgia act, as both could prove to be invaluable with their experience and leadership. Peppers can still be a stout pass rusher when utilized correctly, and Munnerlyn should bolster Carolina’s ragtag secondary. The Panthers also added veteran safety Mike Adams in the offseason, an under-the-radar signing that could be huge in the growth and development of the team’s young secondary.
Easier Schedule Than 2016: The 2017 schedule is no cakewalk for Carolina, but it is easier than last year’s. Due to finishing last in the NFC South, the Panthers will take on the teams who finished last in the other divisions of the NFC, which makes for a much less difficult schedule than the three years prior. But more of a blessing than the opponents on the schedule is perhaps the schedule itself. The Panthers open up with the 49ers, Bills, and Saints–all very winnable games, and expectantly wins that will allow the team to establish some momentum before their first big challenge of the year, when they go on the road to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Bradberry Primed to Take Next Step: For years now, the secondary has been cited as being the weakness of the Carolina defense. On a team that touts one of the best front sevens in the league, which itself is led by one of the best linebacking crews in the NFL, it is easy to think of the secondary as more of a liability than an asset. Last year the secondary did not do much to improve upon its reputation, most notably allowing Julio Jones to rack up an incredible 300 yards against them in a single game. The team is still trying to fill the void left by Josh Norman, and they might have the man to do it. James Bradberry, who was drafted in the second round last year, is looking to improve upon a solid rookie season, where he had 11 pass break ups. The team has high hopes for Bradberry, who to this point seems unphased by the pressure, having an impressive training camp. The team doesn’t necessarily need a player the caliber of Norman, though it would be nice. What the Panthers need is a reliable cornerback, someone who doesn’t routinely get beaten deep or constantly struggle in man coverage, and Josh Bradberry will hopefully be just that.
Check out the 2017 Carolina Panthers schedule.