Phoenix residents call it being in the way of destiny.
However, 2009 appears to be the Pepto-Bismol that remedies that feeling, or so many are reporting.
Before their playoff loss, the 2008 Panthers finished first in the NFC South and racked up 12 wins thanks to having the third-highest point differential in the NFC (85). The Panthers return the NFL’s third leading rusher in DeAngelo Williams, Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, and their stalwart quarterback Jake Delhomme, who signed a five-year extension this offseason.
It’s logical for Panthers fans to expect another division title.
Showing that they’re not content being one trick kitties, Carolina took defense with its first three picks in the 2009 NFL Draft. Watching over the players, the team has a coaching staff that is bad at losing.
While the 2009 Panthers attempt to wash away the pain delivered in last year’s playoffs by their desert foes, the optimistic eyes may be seeing a mirage.
Here are four reasons the Panthers won’t repeat as NFC South Champions:
You Say You Want a Revolution…
Vick couldn’t live up to the expectations of being John Elway, Barry Sanders, and God rolled in one. Instead, as you may have heard, Vick is now living at home making $10 an hour.
However, another quarterback, the third overall pick in the 2008 draft, pushed the Falcons to the playoffs in his first season. A more conventional quarterback who looks to pass first, Matt Ryan threw for 3,440 yards as he led the Falcons to 11 wins.
His performance earned him the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Assuming Ryan can avoid a sophomore slump, a year of seasoning can only mean bad news for the Panthers. The Falcons seem to think Ryan will be fine as it chose to make few moves concerning its offense this offseason.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons signed linebacker Mike Peterson—a tackling machine—this offseason to be a leader on and off the field. Peterson will have his work cut out for him because there is a lot of new blood.
The Falcons drafted defense with its first five picks.
Their first round pick, Peria Jerry, gives the Falcons’ porous defensive line some depth.
The Falcons’ decision to improve by sitting still could be just what they need to take back the NFC South crown.
Coming Up Short…
Before Panthers’ kicker John Kasay booted a football through the uprights with one second left on the clock in the final game of the regular season, the NFC South had an unusual streak from 2003-2007 where the team who finished in last place would win the division the following year.
After finishing 2008 in the cellar, the New Orleans Saints will try to revive this tradition.
The Saints may not have been as bad as their .500 record suggested last year. They had the NFC’s fourth highest point differential (70). While the Saints outscored their opponents by an average of 15.6 points per victory, they also managed to lose six games by five points or fewer.
Maybe the team can’t finish off an opponent...
Or, maybe the team is not getting the luck that its moniker suggests it should...
The Saints lost several key players to injury. Even if those players don’t impact the team tremendously, it could easily turn a few of those close losses into close victories.
A Ship Is Only as Good as Its Captain…
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a lot like going on a blind date...
You have no idea what you’re going to get.
The uncertainty stems from an overhaul. The Bucs have a new general manager, head coach, and defensive coordinator. This doesn’t include their new quarterbacks.
However, like the team that won Super Bowl XXXVII, how well this team does will largely be based on how good its defense is.
In the 2008 season, the Buccaneers had the stingiest defense in the NFC South. Using the “Tampa Two” scheme, Tampa Bay gave up 323 points.
The hiring of Jim Bates to be the team’s defensive coordinator has created a buzz. Bates joined the Green Bay Packers in 2005, and his defense finished seventh in the league only one year after it ranked 25th.
“[Bates is] very smart and knows all the positions,” said Buccaneers’ general manager Mark Dominik in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.
“He's very knowledgeable in defensive line play and very versed in everything he's trying to coach. You know he's going to do it correctly."
With seven years of defensive coordinator experience, Bates brings a successful track record and a sagacious voice he can whisper into 32-year-old rookie head coach Raheem Morris’ ear.
If Morris can transfer his youthful energy to his players and find a quarterback to keep the team close, the Buccaneers could find themselves near the top of the standings.
Standing in the Way of Themselves…
The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Peppers, which means any team that signs Peppers will give two first round picks to Carolina. This is unlikely to happen and, up to this point, Carolina has shown no desire to trade Peppers.
Peppers has already missed a minicamp. Unnamed members of the Panthers believe that he will not sign his contract until shortly before Week One.
While contract disputes are as much a part of the NFL now as cheerleaders and shoulder pads, could Peppers’ actions drag on the team?
Even if the answer is a little, it may be too much.
The Panthers face a difficult schedule that has them playing 15 games against teams who finished .500 or better last year. Seven of these games will be played against teams that made the playoffs.
Should a team sign Peppers, the Panthers would be relying heavily on Everette Brown, a rookie drafted in the second round.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers return the core of an offense that was only one of six teams in the NFC to score over 400 points.
However, Delhomme’s playoff performance—in which he tossed five interceptions and lost possession on a fumble—inspires little confidence.
Perhaps it is an outlier in an otherwise solid career.
Perhaps it’s a sign of a 34-year-old beginning to regress.
The competition in the NFC South should make for an entertaining season, but Panthers fans should only expect another NFC South crown as much as they expect Sunday afternoons nursing Pepto-Bismol as the team sinks in the standings.