I understand the optimism amongst Panther fans.
They get to play Atlanta twice, which is a gift any team would gladly accept. They also get Kansas City at home, Chicago at home, Arizona at home, Oakland on the road, Detroit at home, and Denver at home. All winnable games.
If they can win those games, they have eight wins. Which means they would only need to win two games against New Orleans, the Giants, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, and San Diego to get to the magic 10-win mark, which, in the NFC, basically guarantees a playoff spot.
But I’m certainly not convinced this is a 10-win team—I’m not even convinced this is an eight-win team.
I talked about chemistry in the Bengals' preview. Chemistry requires continuity. The Panthers’ roster had a ton of turnover this offseason. Their success (or lack thereof) will be a direct result of how quickly all the new guys can come together.
I’m also weary of teams starting quarterbacks who just had their arms reconstructed. I’ve always liked Jake Delhomme, but I’m not sure what to make of the post-Tommy John Jake Delhomme. If he reacts like an MLB pitcher, he may end up coming back with a stronger arm.
But we won’t know how well he’s going to hold up until we get into the season. The Panthers can’t afford to go through quarterbacks like they did last year. They need Delhomme for 16 games if they’re going to hope to play a 17.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will make up a pretty good running-back tandem. Williams is fast and shifty. Stewart is stronger; he's more of a power guy. They should make for a good thunder-and-lightning combo.
The Panthers didn’t like their wide-receiver situation last year, so they looked to improve it this season. Drew Carter and Keary Colbert are gone, replaced by Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett. Both are significant upgrades over the guys they replaced.
Dwayne Jarrett is still on the roster, and he looked pretty decent in the preseason.
We all know about Steve Smith, but he needs to take his aggressions out on opponents instead of his own teammates. Once his suspension is over, he’ll reunite with Delhomme and his lackluster 2007 season will be just a memory.
The offensive line is pretty good. Jeff Otah is a 340-pound monster, and he’ll step right into the right-tackle spot. Keydrick Vincent is big. Ryan Kalil was good in college. Travelle Wharton should thrive at left guard. Jordan Gross is a solid tackle.
The offense will rely heavily on the running game and the surgically reconstructed arm of Jake Delhomme. They have the talent to be good, but we’ll take a wait-and-see approach.
The defense has some good parts, but the problem is that they’re not on the defensive line.
Julius Peppers is supposed to be a premier player, but he was terrible last season. He’s the best player on the defensive line. If they’re going to be any good, he needs to be the Peppers of old, not the Peppers who looked like he was getting old.
He’s shown signs in the preseason of being back to his old self, but I don’t put too much stock in preseason performance.
Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis are both underwhelming. Lewis is a decent pass rusher, but he doesn’t really give you anything else. Kemoeatu is 345 pounds, so at least he’s big. As a starting defensive end, Tyler Brayton is a decent backup.
Jon Beason is one of the best middle linebackers in football. He’s a machine. Na'il Diggs is OK, but he's not great on the weak side. Thomas Davis is middle of the road on the strong side.
I love Chris Gamble. He’s a great corner. Ken Lucas is decent, but he’d be a better nickel. Richard Marshall is a pretty good backup.
Rookie Charles Godfrey looks like the starting free safety. Jury’s out on how that one will turn out. I’m not optimistic. Chris Harris was fantastic last season; hopefully he can duplicate his productivity on a better team.
Like I said, I can understand the optimism. I just don’t share in it.
Productive tight ends aren’t always easy to find. Jeff King is a relatively productive tight end. Last season, he had 46 catches, 406 yards, and two touchdowns.
And that was with garbage quarterbacks throwing to him all season.
Fighting for draft picks, fighting for the playoffs, or contending for the Super Bowl?
The Panthers will be fighting for the playoffs.
I’m going to predict an 8-8 season, but I will do so with two "but ifs."
But if the team comes together, they have the potential to win as many as 10 or 11 games.
But if the team struggles to jell and Delhomme can’t stay healthy, they have to potential to lose as many as 10 or 11 games.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.