Carolina Panthers' Lair Filled with Great Expectations

Jennette GrayContributor IMay 12, 2009

CHARLOTTE,NC- MAY 1: Head Coach John Fox (R) smiles as he talks to some fans after the minicamp practice  at the team's practice facility on May 1, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Why mess with perfection?  Okay, so the Carolina Panthers were not exactly perfect last season.  But despite a few hiccups—like seeming to lose steam down the stretch—they did manage to clinch the NFC South with the second best regular season record in the NFC.

However, you can bet there will be changes made.  And with Ron Meeks taking over as defensive coordinator, it’s a safe assumption that most of them will be on the defensive side of the ball.

At this point, that’s all there is—assumptions. The Cats are notoriously tight lipped, but there are a couple of things that can safely be expected.

First, the Panthers will make the playoffs.  They will not win the NFC South title.

Historically speaking, whoever places last in the NFC South tends to win it the following year.  That didn’t happen last year, and it won’t happen this year.  The Saints are not strong enough.  The Falcons, however, arguably may be.  (Man, it hurt to admit that!)

Secondly, the Cats will experience a bell curve season.  They’ll start the season shaky and end it shaky.  In fact, they’ll probably lose (or come close to losing) three out of the last four games.

And the shakiness at the end of the season we’ll just chalk up to strength of schedule. 

But much of how shaky the beginning of the season will be will have a lot to do with chemistry.  There is going to be a generous amount of new faces and it may take a game or two to iron out the kinks.

This brings us to my final prediction for the 2009 season.  I look for the Panthers to add two to three defensive ends to their roster.  (This would explain the massive influx of DE free agents brought in last month.)

Why so many you ask?  Part of it has to do with scheme (about which the team has been mum).  But mostly it has to do with prepping for departure—the departure of Julius Peppers, that is.

Peppers has been uncharacteristically vocal during the offseason, asserting that he would prefer to leave.  He won’t be able to leave this year, but I don’t see the Panthers being able to sign him to a long-term deal.   I also don’t see Peppers sharing any tips or secrets with these guys so…

Disappointed?   I know you probably wanted me to say the Panthers will win the Super Bowl this year.  I guess anything’s a possibility...but I actually think they won't make it past the first playoff game.

If they want to surprise me, they’ll have to figure who they are and be that team consistently.  They’ll also have to find some chemistry—fast.

It also wouldn’t hurt if they could find something to galvanize around emotionally.  Like it or not, they are an emotional team. 

Their best season was 2003: a season where Sam Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and Mark Fields found out he had Hodgkin’s.  It was also a season that landed them in the Big Game.