Your view of the Carolina Panthers depends on your interpretation of their disastrous 33-13 home Divisional Round loss to the Arizona Cardinals last January. If you are in the camp that believes America witnessed merely a 12-4 team being struck down by quarterback Jake Delhomme’s ill-timed career lowlight (in which he completed 22 of 34 passes, but five of them to the wrong team), then you see this club as the favorite in the NFC South. After all, the Panthers return all 11 starters from their seventh-ranked scoring offense, and 10 starters on a defense that, if not for a late-season meltdown, would have finished in the league’s Top 10.
But if you’re in the camp that believes what happened in the playoffs was not an aberration but, rather, a culmination of that second half letdown, then you think John Fox’s club will continue its trend of mediocrity between postseason appearances. (The Panthers, under Fox, have never won more than eight games the season after reaching the playoffs.)
Clearly, GM Marty Hurney and owner Jerry Richardson (who, thankfully, is recovering well from a February heart transplant) are in the first camp. They are pleased with how the team’s powerful, ascending offensive line enables young star running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to employ the tempo-controlling rushing attack that Fox and offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson prefer. They like how the defense is headlined by a shimmering star middle linebacker in Jon Beason, and supported by a solid, underrated secondary. They’re excited about new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, a Cover 2 connoisseur who was hired after Mike Trgovac chose to leave.
Click HERE to read the rest of this preview