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10-6 or 6-10?

With the preseason approaching and anxious fans awaiting the final 53, many are already making their predictions for the outcome of the 2011 season. Will the Panthers have a playoff picture? Will they shatter expectations and have a breakout year? Or will the Panthers just be happy with a winning season? I for one would not like a  less than average year, but I have my sights set on a team that will expose many weaknesses in teams that are projected to be in the playoffs this year.

Throughout Panther history, they have had a tradition of exposing and exploiting major weaknesses in offenses and defenses. It is obvious to Panther fans what ours have been, but how will it affect this year’s regular season? With the preseason kickoff only a week away, it is hard to tell who will have the advantage in the NFC South. Reviews on training camps for the Panthers and the Buccaneers have been slightly more revealing than the Saints and Falcons. Since it appears the latter two are the projected top competitors for the #1 spot in the division, it makes sense that they would want to keep their progress under wraps. As for Carolina, many of the gaps are apparent and the future of a turnaround team could just be out of reach.

Coach Rivera has continually given promising feedback on the progression of the players and things could start to become clear with the availability of the full roster post CBA finalization. Davis has returned from a 2 year hiatus to help out DE Charles Johnson and linebacker James Anderson on defense. The offense is now packing a full metal jacket with Williams alongside Stewart in the backfield and the acquisitions of TE’s Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey hope to open up the playbook a little more. Smith has decided to remain the inspiration leader for the offense and is currently awaiting a second presence on the other end. Second year WR Armanti Edwards seems to be the front runner in that battle so far, competing against fellow returning WR’s Brandon LaFell and David Gettis. The signing of Legadu Naanee will make Rivera’s decision a tough one for who will prevail at #2. And of course it goes without saying that the search for the #1 QB spot will no doubtedly come down to the last moment.

For the first time in a several years it appears the Panthers have more weapons than they know what to do with. But can they use them effectively? Reports from the Panther camp have stated that there seems to be a lack of intensity on the practice field and that they are just “going through the motions.” Not to mention that the “‘developmental stage” of Cam and Jimmy, along with the addition of Anderson does not necessarily boast confidence for having a solid starting QB ready for week one, or a willing mentor for the young guys. Currently we have a big weakness in the cornerback position with only returning veteran Chris Gamble, an aggressive but small Captain Munnerlyn and rookie Kendric Burney (also on the smaller side) to provide the core for the secondary. Another possible concern is how long we are able to keep the key players healthy and what will we look like if they are out for an extended amount of time? Many questions hold merit about the uncertainties of a possible NFC powerhouse, but one thing is for sure, we will see something different this year.

With that said, I am still optimistic about a season wrought with possibilities. One of the things that I think is being seriously overlooked is how the players have been picked with ties to coaches and other players from previous organizations. Chud and his TE-driven offense will be something fans look forward to for the upcoming season due to our newly acquired wealth of TE experience. Player chemistry is a powerful tool that should not be overlooked and is often essential in games that rely on momentum. QB Anderson, who has also played under Chudzinski, should prove to learn the offense fairly quickly.

Although he has been scrutinized for not accepting a role as mentor with Arizona, with the QB spot up for grabs, a determined Clausen and Newton will be paying close attention to detail. With the options that the passing offense will provide, I see no reason that we won’t see Williams and Stewart causing damage to defenses much like what we saw in 2009. Since there will not be as much pressure for our running backs to perform amazing feats, they should stay healthier throughout the season. As for the defense, I still see difficulties in the secondary in that the pressure will be on Gamble to prevent the big plays down field. Still, our defense was not the worst holding most PPG averages of other teams to a minimum. It should be business as usual and a little more from the big D in 2011.

So how do the figures line up against the rest of the league? In our division, it will no doubt be a battle for the ages. Potentially we have two teams in the Saints and Falcons that are strong prospects to excel across the entire NFL. That does not necessarily bode well for our rank in the NFC South, but it says that two of the bigger threats in the league are in our own division. We’ll have plenty of practice against stiff competition, but I believe that we have a chance of splitting with New Orleans and possibly Atalanta, but it will take something special to even achieve that.  Against other teams in the league, I think that we will have an early advantage against  teams like Green Bay and Chicago and might be able to pull out a surprise win in at least one of those games. Later in the season other teams will have the advantage of seeing our weapons and will be able to better exploit the weaknesses of our inexperience.

Overall our schedule will be tough for a  relatively new team. Every game will be tooth and nail, but we have the right pieces to surprise many an unsuspecting victim. My prediction for this year is leaning toward the 10-6 side, maybe closer to 9-7. If we stay healthy and guarantee ourselves victories against teams like Arizona, Detroit, and Tampa Bay, we could see a championship caliber team by 2013. Either way, expect to see some big things in 2011.

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2 Responses to “10-6 or 6-10?”

  1. Greg says:

    Highly doubt 9-7… In all honesty we are looking at 8-8 at best. Here is the part I’m torn about – Will Rivera allow Chud to open a SD type O with an over emphasis on the pass? or will it be a 50/50 Pass/Run ratio? ur thoughts?

  2. Trey Woody says:

    To be honest,I think we will stick with the run. Why fix what isn’t broken,right? The reason I’m optimistic is Cam, if he starts, really only needs to get 5 yards per 4 downs. The running game will continue to provide the brunt of our yardage. With options in the passing game we should see plenty of opportunities to make a big play down field. With Smith, who makes most plays after the catch, we have the potential to get at least one 15 yard play per possession. Plus we have Olsen and Shockey. These two guys will be making big plays closer to the red zone which is why TD production should be increased by at least double from last season with them alone. We just have too many weapons to not break past an 8-8 record. I’m saying 9-7 at a minimum. Rivera stated that we can win 10 games and I think it is definitely possible. The teams on our schedule that are not considered top tier or playoff potential teams I have already counted as wins for the Panthers. In our division I think it is possible to get at least one win from both New Orleans and Atlanta. We just have to hope our O-line stays healthy.

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