There has never been a repeat champion of the NFC South Division – beware, New Orleans Saints – and the Carolina Panthers were the victims of the South curse last season, following up their 2008 12-4 record and division title with an 8-8 record and no playoff visit last year. And really that 8-8 record was a bit misleading because Carolina had to win its final three games to manage a .500 mark.
Jake Delhomme’s turnover-plagued 2008 postseason continued on into 2009 and Matt Moore, who led the mini-resurgence late in the year, eventually replaced him. Moore is now the starter until 2010 NFL Draft pick Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame is ready, while Delhomme is now in Cleveland. The Panthers ranked just 27th in the NFL in passing last season and may not be much better this year with some major receiver questions outside of Steve Smith, who himself is recovering from a broken arm. Dwayne Jarrett seems likely to start opposite Smith.
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But let there be no doubt: this will be a run-heavy team behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, arguably the NFL’s best running back tandem. Thanks to those two, the Panthers led the NFC in rushing last year and were third overall. Stewart and Williams became the sixth pair of teammates in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
The defense could take a big step back this year as star defensive end Julius Peppers left as a free agent for the Bears – meaning only one defensive line starter is back from last year. And linebacker Thomas Davis, the team’s best pass-rushing linebacker, was lost for the season this summer with a torn ACL.
Carolina coach John Fox has never coached two playoff teams in a row at Carolina. If that streak runs to three, look for Fox to be gone and the team to try and lure Bill Cowher out of retirement.
BetUS lists Carolina’s 2010 NFL season wins total at ‘over/under’ 7.5. Let’s break down the 2010 Carolina Panthers schedule:
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 23, at Pittsburgh, 8:20 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
This is ranked as the seventh-easiest schedule in the NFL this season, with an opponents’ 2009 winning percentage of .477 (122-134). Carolina has just five games against playoff teams from last season – it helps that only one NFC South team (Saints) made it.
The Giants will no doubt be out for revenge in the grand opening of the New Meadowlands Stadium as Carolina crushed the G-Men in Week 16 last year in the final of the old Giants Stadium. The Panthers have opened as seven-point dogs.
Carolina really needs to be good in the next five games because that stretch likely will determine its season with four of the games at home and only one against a playoff team from last year (Cincinnati) although the Bears and Niners could be in 2010. Should be interesting to see what Peppers does against Panthers star tackle Jordan Gross in that Chicago game.
That next three-game stretch also isn’t that bad. Sure, the Saints are defending champs, but Carolina gave them trouble last year, winning the season finale at home (when New Orleans had zip to play for). Carolina has have won 11 of its last 15 against the Saints and hasn't been swept by them since 2001. The Panthers swept the Bucs last year and are 11-3 against them since 2003. The Rams haven’t won at home since midway through the 2008 season.
Baltimore will be tough to beat before the Panthers could see Delhomme when they go to Cleveland on Nov. 28, although if Delhomme plays like he did last year he’ll be on the bench by then. That matchup with Arizona is strangely the ninth year in the past 10 these two have played. Carolina has won six consecutive regular-season games over the Cardinals.
It’s clear not much is expected of Carolina considering its only prime-time schedule game is that Week 16 matchup in Pittsburgh. The Panthers aren’t a very good cold-weather team so it’s hard to see them winning there.
If Matt Moore is just OK, this schedule really seems quite easy. I’d say that eight wins is probably very doable and that ‘over’ 7.5 seems like a lock, although this is not a playoff team.
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