Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Rank examines the Carolina Panthers.
We are taking the Carolina Panthers for granted. They are like "Mission Impossible" movies. All of them are just delightful. But there's one coming out this summer and it just slipped my mind. The Panthers are a lot like that. They went 11-5 last year. Made the playoffs. Even had a spirited game against the Saints on Wild Card Weekend.
And yet, they were one of the least-buzziest teams to make the playoffs in recent years. Even the 7-8-1 Panthers of 2014 received more attention. Though they were making headlines for reasons other than what you'd want, being a losing team making the postseason and all. Still, the Panthers are one of the most consistent teams in the NFL, making the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. Here are five reasons why they will make it again in 2018:
1) Cam Newton
I never cared for Superman in the comics. He's indestructible. And just about any problem can be solved by flying it into space. Bomb? Fly it into space. Bad guy holding people hostage? Fly him into space. Somebody is taking too long to back out of a parking spot? Sure, flying him into space might seem excessive, but I would consider it. The point being, I'm not a Supes guy, because Superman can't be brave. He's indestructible. You can't hurt him, outside of Batman (because he's a G) and some meteorite from his home planet, which seems to be around in an abundant supply!
Cam Newton likes to project himself as the Superman of quarterbacks, but you are all taking him way too literally. He's great. And you think he's indestructible. But he's a fallible human being. And if he doesn't live up to your unreasonable standards, he's a failure. Just ask the Sporting News. He ranks 19th? More like the Sporting Fake News, amirite?
I guess my point is, your expectations are way too exaggerated. He's a great quarterback. Oh, I know -- his stats can be bad. There's the passer rating of 53.6 in losses. He ranked 24th in yards traveled per pass completion (6.3), via Next Gen Stats. And there's the fact he sometimes dresses like Brutus the Barber Beefcake on road trips. But you're all being ridiculous.
Newton returned from shoulder surgery last year. He rushed for 754 yards and six touchdowns -- the kind of production the Lions would love from their running back. Hell, even good teams like the Eagles would take that from their top back. (LeGarrette Blount rushed for 766 yards and two touchdowns.) So, give him some room. He's going to be just fine this year.
2) Because they have Norv Turner
The Panthers replaced Mike Shula with Norv Turner. Which is an interesting move. It's like if you've been driving a reliable Hyundai Sonata for years, but then you trade it in for the Mutt Cutts Ford Econoline Van from "Dumb and Dumber" fame. I mean, it was really cool in the 1990s; I just don't know how practical it's going to be here in 2018. I know, that's mean. If you have a running quarterback with a questionable offensive line, there is no other coordinator I'd rather pair him with than Turner and his seven-step drops ...
Again, that was excessive. There are some guys who will be huge benefactors from having Turner as the offensive coordinator. Even Newton. I was struck by something coach Ron Rivera told our own Peter Schrager at the NFL Scouting Combine. That Norv will help Cam get to "another level" and will give him a "different look" this season. And it's more than just lip service.
Shula did a great job of getting Cam to this point. An MVP season in 2015. A Super Bowl appearance. But it's time to do something different and expand your horizons. Like, it might be cool that you still love listening to Night Ranger, Skid Row and other glam-rock bands of the 1980s. But that doesn't make you as interesting as you think you are. I love that Cam will get out of his comfort zone and will be challenged to work on his accuracy and get rid of the ball quicker. As long as you let him do the things that make him great, this can only be a positive.
3) Greg Olsen is healthy
Oh, my God: If you play fantasy football (you should, it's fun), please punch the person in your draft who says stupid (stuff) like "Turner is the tight end whisperer, so Olsen is going to have a great year." First, Olsen is great no matter who the coach is. Well, as long as it's not Mike Martz. But Olsen is healthy and ready to go. And even when Olsen wasn't healthy last year, he returned from a broken foot to huge games against the Packers and in the playoffs against the Saints.
He's the reliable one. But the Panthers also added some talent with Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright and first-round pick D.J. Moore. This is a really good group of pass catchers for Newton to work with.
Oh, and Christian McCaffrey. He also has the burden of high expectations, because somehow his 80 receptions as a rookie weren't good enough for a lot of you. But he reminds me of Darren Sproles, who had the best years of his career ... once he left the Chargers and Norv to play in New Orleans. Well, the upshot is, C.J. Anderson isn't LaDainian Tomlinson, so good news.
4) Crossing stars
The Panthers lost Star Lotulelei, who left Carolina for Buffalo because, well, why wouldn't you? They responded by stealing Dontari Poe from Atlanta. And I love this kind of stuff. It's not exactly Brett Favre going to the Vikings, but I love it.
The defense looks pretty good. Poe and Kawann Short are great on the line. Luke Kuechly is recovering from shoulder surgery and should be ready to go. Ross Cockrell and Da'Norris Searcy are good additions to the secondary. I like this defense.
5) Down and distance
The Panthers open the season with three of their first four games at home. What's intriguing to me is the Panthers travel just 6,945 miles this year. Colleen Wolfe knocks that out in two weeks traveling coast-to-coast for "Good Morning Football Weekend." I mean, seriously. The Raiders, Seahawks and Chargers will each travel more than 29,000 miles this year. The Eagles and Rams are near that 20,000 mark. This is a pretty nice perk.