When you examine what has given the Carolina Panthers success in their previous play-off seasons, you find one common denominator: a solid run game and great defense.
Whether it has been Stephen Davis, DeShaun Foster, Mike Minter, and Mike Rucker during their Super Bowl-appearance year or Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Julius Peppers (for now), and Jon Beason today, running and defending are keys to this teams success.
This year, as I just stated, Carolina has the pieces they need for success.
Provided DeAngelo and Stewart can put up something close to their combined 2351 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns (you can add two to get 30 if you want to include Williams' receiving TD's), then the Panthers should be a top-tier offense once again in 2009.
On the other side of the ball, you have a new coordinator in Ron Meeks, who ran a notoriously tight D in Indianapolis, who has already stated that blitzing will not be the driving force behind the Panther's defense. Instead, he said that it is "going to be driven by a good solid system that's going to allow us to be successful..." (from Yahoo Sports).
If he can keep that word, then this team should be fine.
I really like the way this team stacks up.
How couldn't you?
After all, the majority of this roster is returning from a 12-4 season last year.
However, I do see two major weaknesses: Jake Delhomme and Julius Peppers' attitude.
What was going through management's mind when they restructured/extended the "rajin' cajun's" contract, I don't know, but, to my great distaste, it happened.
I understand that Delhomme has had his good years, and he has his niche here in Carolina (handing the ball off and throwing the occasional bomb to Steve Smith), but his inconsistencies when it matters the most (NFC Divisional Round vs. Arizona) and the least (last season vs. the Raiders) causes frustration that I have trouble handling.
As long as he can avoid the INTs, he should be fine, but whether or not he can do that is debatable.
The other weak link in Carolina's chain is whether or not Peppers decides he wants to participate.
If he wanted to leave before because he "hadn't reached his potential," what's he going to say about a new defensive scheme that will limit the number of times he goes after the passer?
Each of the above issues are individual-related, and can only be resolved on a personal basis.
There is nothing the team can really do to appease Peppers (other than trade him) or improve Jake's vision.
But, I have confidence that this team has the potential to cover up whatever shortcomings these two may have (Everette Brown and Matt Moore/Josh McCown are sitting there waiting to be utilized).
Overall, I can see this team making the postseason for consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
A record somewhere in-between 11-5 and 13-3 stands as a distinct possibility.