NFL Preseason 2012: 3 Reasons for Carolina Panthers Fans to Be Excited
The Carolina Panthers ended 2011 with a somewhat disappointing 6-10 record, third place in the NFC South. They also have not reached the playoffs since 2008, when they were beaten badly in their opening playoff game.
Nevertheless, Panthers fans should be optimistic and excited about the upcoming 2012 season. Their team should be improved both on offense and defense, and they are likely to pose a real threat in the division.
For the following three reasons, Carolina fans have a lot to be excited about.
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While the Panthers' linebacking group was decimated by injuries in 2011—causing their defense to be sub-par—the group is back and looking strong for 2012.
Led by three-time Pro Bowler Jon Beason and former first-round pick Thomas Davis, the linebacking unit is looking healthy and talented heading into 2012.
Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly adds depth to the unit and was impressive in his most recent preseason game against the New York Jets (via WSOCTV.com). If the linebackers as a group can anchor the Panthers' defense in 2012, it will go a long way toward having a successful season.
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Based on raw win-loss records, the Panthers have the most difficult strength of schedule in the NFC South this year. However, this is an extremely deceptive statistic. That comparison is self-referential, because it includes the records of the teams within the division.
The Panthers play the third-place schedule and thus play the second easiest out-of-division schedule. Their strength of schedule is inflated by playing the 13-3 Saints twice.
To the opposite effect, the Saints' strength of schedule is deflated by playing the 6-10 Panthers twice.
In reality, the Panthers' schedule is significantly easier than that of the rival New Orleans Saints. They play the weak AFC West and the average strength NFC East. They also play the Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks due to having the third-place schedule.
This relatively easy schedule—coupled with their improvement as a team—makes it very likely that the Panthers will have a better year than they did in 2011.
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Quarterback Cam Newton is the face of the Panthers' future. He had a record-setting rookie year, one of the best rookie campaigns in the history of the NFL. After having his first actual offseason, he is looking to do even better in his sophomore year.
If you look past the stat line, Cam Newton had a very impressive showing in his last preseason game against the New York Jets. The Jets—who have not only the best secondary in the NFL but also one of the best defensive lines—are a complete nightmare for quarterbacks.
While the Jets outmatched the Panthers' offensive line, Newton showed tons of presence in the pocket and ran at the right times. He narrowly avoided linebacker Aaron "Mayhem" Maybin on multiple occasions and also escaped from a few pressures by rookie defensive end Quinton Coples.
Unlike pocket passers like Tom Brady—who rarely leave the pocket—and scrambling quarterbacks like Michael Vick—who leave the pocket too often—Newton is developing a brilliant sense of when to leave the pocket and when to stay.
He still has to prove himself this year before he joins the elite class of quarterbacks. However, his set of skills truly is unique among quarterbacks currently in the league.
Carolina fans should look forward to what he will show them this season.