You know what the best thing about the start of the NFL season? Fans of every team thinks their team has a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl. And I am no different. This is the time of year for hope. Unrealistic hope. I won't let anyone take the next 4 weeks of hope away from me. Soon enough the season will start and I will find plenty of things about this team to complain about.
In the meantime, I have listed 10 things that need to happen in order for the Panthers to make a legitimate run into the playoffs:
- Cam Newton - Obviously, this team is only going as far as Cam Newton takes them. I can't think of a QB that has been more picked apart for two seasons after having been as productive as he's been. He's got the most yards through two years for any QB. Ever. He's got the size and skill set that is rivaled by few in the league. In order for the Panthers to get over the hump and into the playoffs, these skills and stats have to transfer into wins.
- Help from other NFC South Teams - The NFC South is stacked. The Falcons are the class of the league. They will likely win the division again. The Saints are bound to be good again now that Sean Peyton is back at the helm. And then you have the Buccaneers, who look to be good as well and always play the Panthers tough. In order to make the Playoffs, the Panthers will need at least one of these teams to be worse than expected.
- Stop the Run - The Panthers were atrocious against the run last year. They ranked 14th in running ypg. As someone who watched nearly all of their games last year, they sure seemed worse than that. In the draft this year they added Star Lotulele and Kawaan Short; two massive DT who will go along way to solidifying the middle of the line.
- Have to find a #3 Receiver - Ted Ginn. David Gettis. Armanti Edwards. The Panthers are gonna need one of these guys to step up and consistently contribute. Steve Smith is the main offensive weapon. Brandon Lafell is a good target for Cam. But he will need a slot threat as well and it's gonna fall on one of these three guys.
- Josh Norman - My biggest point of concern for the Panthers is the secondary. None of the DB's excite me. Word out of camp so far (and through the 1st playoff game) is that Josh Norman has been the best CB. This gives some hope. But I am anticipating alot of me yelling at the TV this season.
- Linebacker Core must be healthy - We all know Luke Kuechly is a beast. Thomas Davis has show signs that he might be able to have a fairly healthy 2013 season. The big question mark here is Jon Beason. We are past the point of his career where he will be 100% healthy. But in order for this team to make some noise, we will need some good fortune. And one of those turns of good fortune has to be some good health for Beason.
- Have to win the close games - One of the most frustrating things about the Panthers last season was their inability to close out close games. This is the classic mark of a young team. In order to take a step forward, the Panthers have to figure this out and finish out games they have in hand in the 4th quarter.
- Can't start 3-7 - For the past 2 seasons, the Panthers have started out 3-7. This cannot happen is the Panthers want to make a playoff run. The schedule isn't kind. But in the first 10 games, the Panthers only play 3 teams that were playoff teams a year ago. They HAVE to come out of this stretch with at least 6 wins if they want the postseason to be in play.
- Double Trouble - I am very close to losing any faith that we will have both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart healthy for a full season. But, if we are to make a playoff run, we have to have them. Both. Healthy and productive.
- Rivera has to Be a coach - This goes hand in hand with #7and #8. In year 3, it's time for Ron Rivera to prove that he is up to the challenge of coaching an NFL team. Anything short of 8 wins and he needs to be gone.