There's a bit of a hype going around about what the Carolina Panthers can and cannot do next season. While some may think the Panthers may not improve much from their 6-10 record last season, there are also many who believe that the Panthers are already playoff contenders.
As of right now, it appears that the NFC South is up for grabs. Though the New Orleans Saints have been the recent favorites in NFC South, the past couple seasons, they have found themselves in a very difficult place.
For instance, the Bountygate scandal and the recent issues with re-signing Drew Brees may have some negative effects on how they will do in their division during the 2012 season. With their division rivals looking to make some major strides next season, the Saints can only hope they'll be able to keep up with them.
Well for one thing, the Panthers have Cam Newton, who managed to become one of the most impressive rookie quarterbacks of all time. In addition, the Panthers are also getting back some of their crucial defensive players—Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. They've also added some new ones through the draft—Luke Kuechly, Frank Alexander, and Josh Norman. Since the defense was their weakest area and their offense was their strongest, it would seem that the improvement of this weak area puts the Panthers in a very good position to win.
However, Ron Rivera is not ready to call his team playoff favorites just yet. In Joseph Person's article, Rivera had this to say about the Panthers being playoff favorites:
“I think it's Woody Hayes who said: 'If you give a man something he hasn't earned, you've lessened who he is.' And I don't want that. I don't want us to think we've arrived. I don't want anybody telling us, oh, you guys are going to the playoffs. No, you're not. You don't know who's going to the playoffs. That's why you play them.”
An important question might arise as one reads that quote. Based on Rivera's claim here, does it seem like Rivera doesn't have any confidence in his team? My answer is definitely not.
Rivera is merely being a realist. Like he said, "We have not taken the next step. We have not arrived, in any fashion or manner."
And he's right. Until he and his Panthers win a good deal of games in the 2012 season, it does not make any sense to embrace the hype. This is no way questions Rivera's confidence in his team. If anything, it seems like Rivera is protecting his players from getting ahead of themselves.
Perhaps, you can say that Rivera has learned from history. Take for example, two cases, in which a head coach and player created a hype about their team that inevitably led to a disappointing season.
In 2010, Rex Ryan learned that lesson the hard way when he said his New York Jets are Super Bowl favorites. Despite the Jets 11-5 record, their inability to make it to the Super Bowl, makes that season a disappointing one.
Then there was Vince Young who called the Philadelphia Eagles the "dream team," shortly after joining the team in 2011. While calling your team a "dream team" doesn't necessarily make a particular prediction about their season, the Eagles 8-8 record definitely made the "dream team" comment appear quite foolish.
Both the Jets and the Eagles struggled in those seasons when they made such comments. But in the case of the Panthers, it seems that Rivera is trying to avoid setting his team up for failure.
Here, Rivera is taking a more humble approach. Though he may believe in his team and think there will be an improvement from last season, he's not going to make a bold prediction that may do more harm than good.