TDT NFL Power Rankings No. 15: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers suffered a steep drop in 2016, but can they bounce back and make the playoffs in 2017?
Just two seasons ago, the Carolina Panthers enjoyed a 15-1 season, on their way to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Last season was a complete turnaround — but not in a good way. They struggled to win close games, finishing with a 6-10 record on the season. Carolina is hoping that 2017 will be much better to them. Behind a locked in Cam Newton and an improved roster, the Panthers are primed and ready to compete in the NFC South again.
What I Like: The Panthers have the potential to have a really explosive offense this season. Newton, at his best, is an MVP-caliber player, and he proved just that back in 2015. He will have a group of skill players that is as talented as any that he’s ever seen in his career. Jonathan Stewart returns at running back. He’s 30 years old, but is a very reliable back. Joining him will be Christian McCaffrey, who is ultra-dangerous in the open field. At receiver, there’s a dynamic trio of Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and rookie Curtis Samuel. Then, there’s Greg Olsen, who’s a perennial Pro Bowler at tight end.
What I Don’t Like: There are still some major concerns heading into the season regarding Carolina’s secondary. They were torched repeatedly over the course of the 2016-17 season, giving up almost 270 yards per game through the air alone. Things started to fall apart from the moment they let Josh Norman get away. The Panthers are now relying on a pair of young corners to help turn things around. James Bradberry and Daryl Worley were both 2016 draft picks and showed flashes of being good players, particularly Bradberry. They will have their work cut out for them this season.
Offensive MVP: QB Cam Newton. Newton was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2015, after putting together a phenomenal season. Win or lose, there is no doubt that Newton is the most important player on this football team. When he’s not playing well, the Panthers don’t stand a chance. But, when he’s playing at the top of his game, this team is pretty hard to beat.
Defensive MVP: LB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is the heart and soul of this Carolina defense. He’s typically a lock for the Pro Bowl, as he consistently plays at a high level and has the motor of a Tasmanian devil. When he plays well, the rest of the Panthers defense feeds off of his energy.
Season Outlook: It was hard to watch the sudden decline the Panthers suffered last season. They were at the top of the world, then it came crashing down just like that. They’re not quite ready to be back at the top of the NFC South, but they should be significantly better than they were a year ago. There are some question marks on defense, but the offense should be much improved. I see them fighting for a Wild-Card berth.
9-7, 3rd in NFC South