2015 NFL Preview: Carolina Panthers

2015 NFL Preview: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers have won two straight NFC South titles. The 2014 crown came with a losing record, but it still counts. With every other team in the division facing varying degrees of uncertainties, the ‘Cats boast the largest amount of stability. Cam Newton is entering his prime, although erratic accuracy and a woe-is-me attitude continues to plague him as he prepares for Year 5. But the Panthers’ Super Bowl aspirations will live and die on the shoulders of their defense, led by All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. A defense that allowed 17 or fewer points in five of their last six games a season ago. The Panthers are the only team to win back-to-back division titles since the South’s inception in 2002, and are looking to maintain that grip atop the standings. Here’s a preview of the 2015 Carolina Panthers.

Outlook: Having few question marks on the roster doesn’t mean they are completely without. Handing the lead running back duties to a player who has never started more than 8 games in a season is mega risky. Jonathan Stewart is a bruising dual-threat back, but he’s never been able to evade lingering injury issues. The receiving corps is weak behind Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen. A rebuilt secondary must prove last year’s promising finish was legit. The offensive line is still the definition of “makeshift.” The pass rush must replace a dominant piece. And Newton has to refine his overall game. The ‘Cats are the favorites, but a slip or two opens the door for both Atlanta and New Orleans.

Later, dude: Greg Hardy’s domestic violence history was disturbing enough to let him test free agency. The Cowboys adore low character players, so once he returns from a four-game suspension, Hardy should feel right at home in Jerry’s World. DeAngelo Williams hasn’t rushed for more than 850 yards since 2009; at age 32, he’s nearing the end, but still has enough gas left to fill the gap during Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension in Pittsburgh. Tackle/guard Byron Bell was pretty terrible in his four years in Carolina, so his exit to Tennessee is a welcome one. Safety Thomas DeCoud was a weak link in 2014, which probably explains why he’s still unemployed.

Welcome aboard: Michael Oher’s career has kinda derailed since the Ravens won a championship, so him being awarded $7 million over two years and pegged to start at left tackle is head-scratching. First-round pick Shaq Thompson is undersized, but he’s penciled in to start at the WIL once the season kicks. Rookie wideout Devin Funchess is big, but his ability to separate at the pro level is in doubt. Fourth-rounder Daryl Williams might start at guard at some point during the season. Returner/running back Jordan Todman brings versatility to special teams and offense, if the playcallers choose to take advantage of his skill-set. Same can be said to a lesser extent for Ted Ginn.

Over/Under wins – 8.5: They draw Jacksonville, Houston, and Tampa in the opening month. Then they play Seattle, Philly, Indy, and Green Bay in consecutive weeks. More than 8 or 9 wins will be difficult, although that might be all it takes to win the division.

Bet the Over