The Panthers made a run at 16-0 in 2015, blazed through the NFC in the playoffs and ultimately fell in Super Bowl 50. That loss to the Broncos in the big game was just the beginning of dark days for the team, as things couldn't have went more poorly as the Panthers limped to a 6-10 finish and last place in the NFC South.
Now it's 2017, and the range of possibilities seems as wide as their finishes in the last two seasons. Will Cam Newton be able to lean on his new offensive weapons and return to MVP-caliber production? Let's see what the projections say.
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|Projected wins||In playoffs||Win division||Conference||Super Bowl|
SportsLine projects a nice rebound season from the Panthers, with the most likely scenario giving them a 9-7 season and close to a 50/50 shot at a playoff spot. Usurping the Falcons for the division crown could come down to the final week of the season, when Carolina has to travel to Atlanta on New Year's Eve.
|Win total||Playoffs||Division||Conference||Super Bowl|
|9 (O -120)||-110||+240||12/1||25/1|
All odds via Westgate.
It seems as if no one is expecting the Panthers to limp to another 6-10 season, as the team's aggressive win total of nine is already seeing a lean on the Over. The Panthers' odds to make the playoffs and win the division are a stayaway according to the projections above.
Will Brinson defends his 11-5 prediction:
The Panthers are not that far removed, both in terms of time and personnel, from the squad that went 15-1 and made Super Bowl 50. A brutal schedule, a rash of injuries and bad luck in close games doomed 2016 for Carolina, and it should have been obvious things were going south after Denver beat them up again in Week 1.
The Panthers dedicated this offseason to making Cam Newton's life easier, and the results should show quickly. Newton has a new left tackle in Matt Kalil, and debate the contract all you want, but he should be an improvement. Christian McCaffrey, the team's first-round pick, will immediately reduce the number of hits in the pocket Newton takes, thanks to his "suction cup" hands and ability to be a check-down weapon capable of generating explosive plays.
There is zero reason not to have high expectations for this defense. Kawaan Short, Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler are an outstanding trio on the interior of the defensive line, while Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Wes Horton and rookie Daeshon Hall provide a ton of depth at defensive end. The linebacking trio of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson might be the best in football. James Bradberry could make a big leap in his second year at cornerback.
Schedule-wise, getting the AFC East is a big plus, as is drawing Detroit and Chicago from the NFC North.