The Carolina Panthers came into last season as a team that many sports bettors thought could make a surprise playoff run. That idea was quickly put to rest as they got off to a miserable 1-6 start (3-4 against the spread). Surprisingly, the Panthers went on to win six out of their last nine Games, iNCluding Four straight to close out the season. They were good to bettors who backed them down the stretch, going 6-3 ATS over the final nine Games. In the big picture though, it was too little, too late, Carolina finished with a 7-9 record and missed out on the postseason yet again, something the team has not been a part of since the 2008 season.
Two years ago, top overall pick Cam Newton had a record-setting rookie season for the Panthers. The bar was set so high for the Carolina quarterback that it would be too tough for him to duplicate such a great statistical year in his second NFL season. Newton still had a pretty solid sophomore season, but his numbers were down from his rookie year. He had fewer passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Veteran Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith had his second consecutive monster season, as his career has been revived since Newton stepped on the field with him. In the last two seasons, Smith has totaled more than 2,500 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Defensive end Charles Johnson was the team’s biggest bright spot on defense last year, contributing 12.5 sacks after signing a six-year, $72 million contract extension shortly after the lockout.
The Panthers have had an interesting offseason so far. Many people thought the firing of head coach Ron Rivera was evident, but owner Jerry Richardson chose to retain him. Then they lost offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who was hired as the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Dave Gettleman was also brought in by Richardson as Carolina’s new GM. Arguably the best offseason move by the Panthers was drafting Star Lotulelei, the monster defensive tackle out of Utah, who will compliment linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and give them one of the best front sevens in the league. One weakness on defense remains with a pretty mediocre secondary that could be trouble with Pro Bowl QBs like Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons playing Carolina twice apiece in the NFC South.
The oddsmakers at 5Dimes have the Panthers projected at O/U 7 wins. This number looks to be spot on, as they are still lacking another impact WR on the other side of Smith, and the defense could still give up too many points, preventing them from winning at least half their Games. Newton will likely continue to put up big numbers, but he needs to start leading his team to more in the locker room in order to improve upon his career mark of 13-19 as a starter.
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