Opening week has arrived in the NFL and the Carolina Panthers and optimism abounds for the franchise.
Yes, second year head coach Matt Rhule took Carolina to a 5-11 record last season. But he and the Panthers may have even exceeded expectations considering it was a major rebuild project. On the field, they were competitive most weeks as evidenced that eight of their eleven losses came by one score or less.
First year GM Scott Fitterer made a number of changes to the roster including striking a deal with the New York Jets for quarterback Sam Darnold. Fitterer also brought in quality free agents such as LB Haason Reddick, TE Dan Arnold, and CB A.J. Bouye to go along with a what looks like a respectable draft of ten rookies.
The roster has definitely improved and it is hoped that the close losses will soon become wins.
Darnold at quarterback gives the offense potential to be explosive. He likes throwing down the field and he has receivers to go and get the deep ball. Returning at receiver are DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. Both are 1,000 yards a season pass catchers. The addition of 2nd round draft pick Terrace Marshall Jr. will also help the passing game.
And then there is Christian McCaffrey in the backfield. The All-Pro back missed 13 games a year ago due to injury. One has to think his presence alone would have swayed a number of those close games the Panthers way.
The defense should also be better in 2022. Rising stars Brian Burns and Derrick Brown have emerged as the leaders of the defense. The pass rush will improve with the addition of free agent DaQuan Jones who has 93 career starts to his name. Another name to watch is free agent Haason Reddick in free agency. Reddick posted a career-high 12.5 sacks last season with the Cardinals.
The secondary was filled with youth in 2020 and it showed as the season moved along. To help, Carolina agreed to a deal with veteran A.J. Bouye. First-round pick Jaycee Horn has looked as good as advertised.
The finished product in 2021 looks promising. The Panthers have a very favorable start to their schedule and could get off to a 5-3 or even a 6-2 start through the first eight games. The latter part of the schedule gets tough and Carolina will need to improve on a weekly basis to challenge for a playoff berth.
But it is possible. It starts this week with the New York Jets on the schedule.