The two teams that are the most likely to be standing between the Arizona Cardinals and their goal of a Super Bowl berth are the two teams being previewed today.
The Carolina Panthers looked like an unstoppable force, until the Super Bowl, when reality hit. Now, the question is can they capture that lightning that they had last year?
Cat Scratch Reader was kind enough to talk about their expectations for 2016.
First things first: Is there any concern about a Super Bowl hangover, or is this an elite team again in 2016?
So far Ron Rivera has been very sensitive to that and the team seems to have responded. When you open your season on TNF against the team you just lost the SB too it’s hard to lose focus. I don’t think a lack of focus is going to be a problem.
Cam Newton had his best season ever by a significant margin. Was it a perfect storm en route to the MVP award or is this the quarterback he’ll continue to be for the Panthers?
Judging by his preseason to date it’s the new norm for Newton. Less running, more pocket passing and taking what the defense gives him. They will still run some read option but also expect to be more short passes to the RBs in lieu of runs.
The Panthers didn’t change much of anything on offense, but that leaves questions about the wide receivers. Is the return of Kelvin Benjamin and the development of Devin Funchess enough to make it an above-average group?
I think so. Newton is really dialed in on those two but also don’t sleep on Ted Ginn. The Panthers deep threat will still be there to replicate his 10 TDs last season. Newton has plenty of quality targets to spread the ball around too.
Rescinding the franchise tag for Josh Norman was certainly a risky move. Is the secondary significantly worse now, or will the new draft picks lessen the blow?
This secondary may not be as talented and experienced as last season’s group but they are very athletic. It will take half the season to lessen the loss of Norman but I think the defense as a whole has the talent to make up for the loss of Norman. No doubt the rookies will get picked on but we hope the scheme protects them with some deep coverage.
The Panthers lost punter Brad Nortman in free agency and replaced him with [Swayze Waters and Michael Palardy]. Is that worth being concerned about?
It was until we signed former Charger Mike Scifres who has looked good when healthy. That is the question at the moment, will he be 100% when the season kicks off. He’s recovering from a non-kicking leg injury so we need to keep an eye on his recovery.
After being the most fun, dabbing-est team in 2015, do you think the Panthers dial it back a bit or will they go even bigger?
I expect they might dial it back a little given losing the SB took a big bite out of that swagger. Newton has said he will replace the dab but we don’t know what that is yet. Newton will still play with exuberance as he is prone to do but I think it will be less as compared to 2015. I could be wrong on this though.
Who's the fan favorite player, the cult hero [think how John Kuhn used to be in Green Bay] and why?
That has to be LB Luke Kuechly, who gets a loud round of ‘Luuuuke’ everytime he makes a play.
How does the first month of the season go for the Panthers? The last month of the season? What's the final record going to be?
I’m thinking a 3-1 start with a 6-2 middle 8 and then a 3-1 finish for a final record of 12-4, conservatively speaking. They could do better though.