The Carolina Panthers became the most feared team in the NFC by the end of the regular season. They were the only team to go undefeated at home and showed they were never out of a game as they had the most comeback victories in the NFL.
The league’s best running duo in Williams and Stewart paired with the best wide receiver in the NFL led the Panthers to a 12-4 record and an NFC South title.
The people who know absolutely nothing about what it means to be a football player will disagree with this, but Jake Delhomme earned his spot in this category. He is the only player to come back from Tommy John surgery as quickly as he did.
The Comeback Player of the Year award went to Chad Pennington, but it took him three to four years to even be able to play like a NFL quarterback, while Delhomme came back in less than one year and led his team to a 12-4 record.
As for his “on the field” attributes, no one in the NFL has more heart and fire than Jake Delhomme. He is the best fourth quarter quarterback in the NFL. His team knows that as long as he is quarterback, they are never out of a game.
As for the Arizona game, get over it as it was a bad day and in the end is no different than the Giants losing, the Eagles losing, and 28 other teams who did not bring home the Lombardy Trophy. He will use the Cardinals game as his fire to once again lead the Panthers to victory.
Another huge reason why the Panthers went 12-4 was because of the best running back duo in the NFL, Double Trouble. This tandem terrorized every defense they came across in the regular season, especially the Bucs as Barber is probably still having nightmares.
DeAngelo Williams was the best back in the second half of the season. Williams rushed for over 1,500 yards and led the NFL with 20 touchdowns. The more spectacular thing is that he did not fumble once.
Even though he had all these accomplishments, somehow he is not selected to the Pro Bowl and Clinton Portis, who had 300 yards less and many fewer touchdowns. Williams will once again make his case, and maybe even decide who the best back in the NFL truly is, and will look to change the entire league’s mind about his ability.
The other half of this dynamic duo was, then rookie, Jonathon Stewart. He has decent speed and great strength. He was able to rush for around 900 yards and did not reach 1,000 yards only because Williams was scorching hot.
He is a great compliment to Williams and maybe this year will be his time to rush for over 1,000 yards. These two are a powerful duo as teams put eight in the box and these two still ripped off big plays. These two are fun to watch and a successful year will cement them as the best duo in the NFL.
The Panthers may run it most of the time, but they do have a talented receiving core. They have the league’s best receiver in Steve Smith. Many will ask about why Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, or Larry Fitzgerald is not the best. The answer is simple, Moss is 6’6", Johnson is 6’4", and Fitz is 6’3", but Smith is only 5’9".
He makes the plays these others do, and better ones, and he is half a foot or shorter than the rest. Also, Steve Smith averaged over 100 yards per game and racked up more than 1,400 yards receiving even though he was suspended for the first two games.
Muhsin Muhammad is the old veteran who is the perfect compliment to Smith. He has good size, he can be the go-to guy on some occasions when Smith is not in, and he is the best blocking receiver outside Hines Ward in the NFL.
The No. 3 receiver is Dwayne Jarrett who has the size at 6’4, has the teachings of Moose, and this year is when he needs to prove that he is worth keeping around. He could be the biggest key outside of the defense in another appearance for the Panthers in the playoffs.
The most unknown part of this team is the talent the tight ends have. Jeff King is the starter for now as he is a great blocker, but he does not pose a receiving threat. The Panthers might have solved that problem and have found the next Wesley Walls.
This man is Gary Barnidge who is 6’5" and has great hands. He improving on his blocking, but he has shown in the preseason that he could be another piece to a Panthers’ championship run.
A big reason why the Panthers were successful last season was the play of the offensive line. The Panthers have one of the better and bigger lines in the NFL. The Panthers have put together a group of brawlers who love nothing more than to have a run play called so they can trample the opposing defense.
The line contains two Pro Bowl caliber tackles in the monster Jeff Otah and who many consider one of the top three tackles in the NFL in Jordan Gross.
The interior line is no different as the guards Wharton and Vincent are the size of tackles. These two guards are joined by the seemingly undersized Ryan Kalil and can handle the bigger tackles in the league. The line will need to stay healthy as a key to their success last season was their depth.
This year’s depth is not bad, but it is inexperienced and two of last season’s backups are now starters for other teams, so it is expected that they may not dominate as they are called to play.
I do not usually talk about special teams, but the punter and kickers are like none other. Jason Baker is tops in the league when it comes to distance on punts as he boots them around 48 yards per punt. John Kasay is one of the oldest kickers in the league, but a 50-60 yard field goal is within reach as long as it is not blocked.
Then, there is Rhys Lloyd who is the best kickoff specialist in the NFL as he led the league in touchbacks and by a substantial number.
The defense struggled in the back half of the season and clearly struggled in the playoffs. Now there is a new Defensive Coordinator in Ron Meeks who came over from the Colts, but there is a question as to whether his system fits the Panthers’ personnel.
The defensive line was to be another strength for the defense, but when the only tackle on the team over 310 pounds in Kemoeatu, who is 350 pounds, gets injured the first day of camp and is out for the year it hurts the scheme.
The Panthers have the second most depth and defensive end to only the Giants who some wonder if their front seven is not all linebackers. The Panthers have Pro Bowl end Julius Peppers as the leader of the group, and the Panthers drafter Brown to be his protégée and provide an unbeatable pass rush, hopefully.
The Panthers also have Tyler Brayton, Hilee Taylor, and Charles Johnson who can all step in provide a good rush, especially Johnson who had six sacks last season off the bench. The main weakness, though, is the tackle position as Maake was the beef of the line, and all the backups are either rookies or Nick Hayden who is in his second year.
Stopping the run may be a huge problem this year.
The strength of the defense is the linebacker core. Jon Beason is an All Pro linebacker and leader of the defense. He has a nose for the ball, but much of his success came from having 350 pounds in front of him. Thomas Davis and Diggs join him on either side. Diggs brings the experience while Davis is one of the better pass rushers in the league.
The Panthers also have good depth here with Dan Connor, the record holder for tackles at Linebacker University (Penn State), Landon Johnson who is a former starter and seasoned veteran, and James Anderson who has been showing his skills on both special teams and at linebacker during the preseason.
The secondary was a disaster in the playoffs and will be a huge question mark for 2009. Chris Gamble is a top-five corner and has the size to handle the bigger receivers in the NFL. Chris Harris is a hard hitting safety who has perfected the art of ball stripping, but he needs to learn how to catch.
The rest of the secondary is in question as corner Richard Marshal is stepping into the starting role for the first time, and safety Godfrey was not bad but he still has a lot to learn. All the rest of the secondary consists of rookies like corner Sherrod Martin or career backups like Nate Salley.
The Panthers have the most difficult schedule in the NFL as they play their own division, both East divisions, but they have to face the now Minnesota Favres and the high flying Cardinals.
The Panthers also have to face the Giants at the Meadowlands for the second year in a row, the Jets in the Meadowlands, the Patriots at Foxborough, and the Cowboys in Dallas. If they win the division it will be because they earned it.
Williams is a No. 1 back that should have another big year despite sharing the acrries and the schedule.
Steve Smith is a top five receiver because he can make the impossible possible and will be at the top in receiving yards once again.
John Kasay is a reliable kicker and still has the leg to pile up the points.
The sleeper is tight end Gary Barnidge. He could provide a missing aspect to the passing game that could really open up the offense.