NFC South Preview- Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers were one of the best teams in the NFC, and the NFL. They tied a franchise record with 12 wins, and went a perfect 8-0 at home at Bank of America Stadium. The team looked pretty unstoppable.

Then came the NFC Divisional Playoffs, and the Panthers looked like the 1-15 team that was in 2001, turning the ball over six times (courtesy of Jake Delhomme’s five interceptions and a fumble), not so good play calling, and left fans in Charlotte and the rest of the NFL scratching their heads as if they saw someone suck the life out of the team.

The Panthers are back, and on offense, they have Double Trouble, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. These two smashed franchise records and league records and really are one of the best running back duos in the NFL. When the defense of the opposition focuses on the run, Delhomme can throw the deep ball to Steve Smith or Muhsin Muhammad. Smith is still one of the top playmakers in the NFL, and Muhammad provides a good possession set of hands to offset Smith’s speed. One thing Delhomme is going to need is a third wide receiver, and this will have to be the time that Dwayne Jarrett steps up and does something for this team. He has not been the receiver the Panthers have hoped for. One player that COULD sneak past Jarrett is WR Kenneth Moore, who has been one of the bright spots of the preseason playing in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C. The former Butler High and Wake Forest standout is standing out and trying to make the cut. Jeff Davidson’s staple is the run, but he knows how and when to mix it up. Delhomme has to cut back on the gunslinging, erratic ways and really step up and be patient if this team wants to go places.

The defense’s main questions come on the front four. Julius Peppers, who is playing on a $16.7M franchise tag, and was ready to leave Carolina, is going to have to put up better numbers than the 14 1/2 sacks he put up last year. The line suffered a huge blow when Maake Kemoeatu ruptured his achilles tendon and is done for the rest of the season. That puts them thin at DT, but expect rookie Everette Brown to have a huge impact. Despite being undersized, he led the ACC in sacks, and can provide help on the pass rush for Peppers. The linebackers and secondary are in good shape, and should work well in new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks’ cover two system.

Although the Panthers had a great season a year ago, they made little to no splash in free agency, and with the strides that Atlanta made, and the improvements of the Saints, Carolina could slip out the playoff picture, but could have a repeat success. The team has to find their identity and be the best team in the NFC that they can be.

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