How did that Cam Newton pick turn out in Year 1 anyway? Many thought Newton would end up being a pretty good quarterback in the NFL, but no one could have predicted his amazing rookie campaign. As he knocked out records along the way, Newton led the Panthers to relevance in 2011. Sure, the team still went only 6-10, but that is a huge improvement from their dismal 2-14 season in 2010.
Carolina was mighty close to being even more relevant last season. The Panthers lost six games by one score or less. Time and time again this team showed they were fully capable of playing with the best teams in the league. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they play in a very difficult NFC South. Inside this division, there really aren’t any easy wins on the schedule.
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In the NFL, it is all about moving forward every season. The Panthers are expected to do even more and take another big step forward this year. Let’s take a look at this year’s roster and see what the Panthers have working for and against them in the year ahead.
Newton threw for 4,051 yards in his rookie campaign. He broke the NFL record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14. He also became the first quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 and rush for more than 500 yards in a season. He did throw for 208 yards or fewer in five of the team’s last six games, so he cooled off a bit at the end of the season. Still, Newton proved he is ready to be a franchise quarterback.
Johnathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams form a very nice tailback tandem for the Panthers. Carolina seemed to abandon the run a little too early last year and eliminated running from the gameplan far too often. Carolina’s running backs averaged just 18 carries per game last season. The offensive front will miss guard Travelle Wharton, who left for Cincinnati in the offseason. Ryan Kalil is one of the best centers in the league, and this line should be solid overall.
Steve Smith had a big season last year, and the Panthers really need some major production from him on a consistent basis. Brandon LaFell hasn’t proven capable of being a major weapon at the No. 2 spot. Mike Tolbert will give Newton another good pass-catching target out of the backfield this season, and I expect him to get the ball quite often as a safety valve.
The Panthers offense averaged 390 yards per game last year, which was good enough for seventh-best in the NFL. Carolina needs Newton to be himself and make plays, but this team also needs to give the ball to the running backs a little more often to make sure Newton stays healthy.
As good as the Panthers were on the offensive end last year, they struggled defensively. Carolina ranked 27th in the league in total defense, and opponents piled up 26.8 points per game against them. The defense struggled to stop the run or the pass in 2011. If this team is going to move forward in 2012, the defense must get better.
The Panthers drafted Luke Kechly to take over the leadership role at the middle linebacker spot. The linebacker position has suddenly become a major area of strength for Carolina, since both Jon Beason and James Anderson are very solid players at this position. Expect to see more playmaking out of the linebacker unit in Carolina this season.
A major problem area for Carolina in 2011 was the defensive tackle spot. Carolina just doesn’t have that big guy in the middle that can clog the running lanes and command a double team. Many thought the team would move to upgrade this spot in the offseason, but they chose to stick with the guys who were there last year.
The secondary was torched by opposing quarterbacks on a weekly basis last season. Chris Gamble is a very good cornerback, but other than him this team really doesn’t have any proven players in the secondary. The second starting cornerback spot is still wide open, and it will likely remain that way until the end of the preseason. The safeties are decent at helping against the run, but both have had trouble against the pass.
2012 Carolina Panthers Schedule Analysis
Based on last year’s records, the Panthers will play the 10th most difficult schedule in the league this season. The team has trips to Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia in the middle of the season. They must also host the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. Carolina really needs to start the season well, because the schedule gets even more difficult in the last few weeks of the year. Their last four road games will be at Philadelphia, Kansas City, San Diego, and the regular season finale in New Orleans.
2012 Carolina Panthers Futures Odds
BetOnline lists the Panthers at +2,200 to win the NFC and +4,800 to win Super Bowl XLVII. JustBet lists the Panthers at +540 to win the NFC South. 5Dimes lists the Panthers season win total at eight games (the “under” is a -140 favorite). According to Bookmaker, Carolina is a 2.5-point favorite in their season opener against Tampa Bay.
2012 Carolina Panthers Predictions
Carolina took a major step forward in 2011. The team will have to navigate its way through a tougher schedule in 2012. Can the team still make progress? I think this is probably a team that gets better, but it might not show up much in the win column. The secondary is still a major problem, and the Panthers must play against Drew Brees and Matt Ryan a total of four times in the regular season.
If Carolina can get some more balance on offense, they’ll be even tougher to stop. Defensively, the front four needs to get some more heat on the quarterback. I think the Panthers likely finish with a similar record to last season. Under eight wins looks like the best play here. Expect a 6-10 or 7-9 record for the Panthers this year.
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