Welcome to “This Is Totally Your Year,” our overly optimistic preview of the 2014-15 NFL season for all 32 teams. We’ve broken down why every team — yes, even your team (and yes, even your team, Rams fans) — will win it all this year. We’ll also give some reasons for pessimism and even estimate an actual season prediction. Today, we start with the NFC South and the Carolina Panthers.
The Seahawks are so lucky that San Francisco got so lucky and beat the Panthers in the NFC semifinals. Man, if that Vernon Davis touchdown didn’t get reviewed at the end of the first half, or if Mike Mitchell hadn’t headbutted that guy, or if Cam Newton hadn’t thrown those two picks, then Seattle totally would have gotten another beat down just like Week 1.
Well, OK, Carolina lost that one too. But if DeAngelo Williams hadn’t fumbled on the would-have-been go-ahead drive, things would be a lot different now. I’m positive.
But that was then, and this is beautiful, excellent, 100-percent-going-to-be-a-great-success now. Here are the five reasons why Carolina will march to the Super Bowl and win the biggest game in football by at least four touchdowns.
This guy is still the quarterback
If the NFL had an equivalent to LeBron James in terms of a quarterback being a physical specimen, Cam Newton would be it. The guy is simply capable of things that no other quarterback in the NFL can pull off. Statistically, he improved his efficiency by completing a career-high 61.7 percent of his passes with a 23-13 TD-INT ratio. He also led the team in rushing touchdowns with six, and led all QBs in rushing yards with 587.
But enough of that number mumbo jumbo. SuperCam’s got the intangibles. He’s got the stuff, moxie, grit. He can do this:
Pessimists might point out the fact that he broke his foot and had to have surgery this offseason. To that I say PSSSHHHHHHHHH. Watch this shit from his first preseason appearance.
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. Who cares if he ended up getting sacked just seconds after that move by the same guy he just shook to the floor? It’s preseason, bro. In the regular season, Cam will be outie and into the endzone *shirt-rip*.
What’s that? He’s also got fractured ribs? Well, uh, that’s not the biggest deal. He’s supposed to be ready for Week 1. So not worried.
The Panthers defense is the best in the league
The only team that allowed fewer points than Carolina was of course the defending champion Seahawks, and we already went over how the Panthers should have scored on them at least one more time in Week 1 had it not been for a stupid flukey fumble. Probably would have scored again for good measure once they had momentum, so basically the Panthers were No. 1. Carolina also led the league in sacks (for real), and finished in the top seven in interceptions.
A lot of their success on defense had to do with a breakout season from second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly. Here’s a list of the cool things he accomplished last season:
(*denotes future accomplishments)
That last one is completely legit. Kuechly won Rookie of the Year in 2012 and followed it up with a DPOY in 2013. You know who else pulled that off in his first two seasons? Lawrence mothafuggen Taylor. Case closed. Panthers defense shall annihilate all foes this year.
The Carolina receivers are for sure better than last year
You’ve probably heard a whole lot of the opposite, but let’s look at the facts. The Panthers’ leading receiver is still with the team because he’s not a receiver at all. Greg Olsen led the team in receptions (73), receiving yards (816) and touchdown catches (6). What, you think he’s too boring to be a No. 1 option in the passing game? Not enough swag, you say? Well then check out his rap verse from the University of Miami’s borderline disgusting, most definitely offensive rap song.
Oh, what — the Panthers lost 1928 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns? Whooopdy-doo *finger twirl.* Steve Smith? Past his prime. Ted Ginn? One-trick pony. Brandon LaFell?
Will probably catch mad TDs from Tom Brady this year. Not important.
Carolina brought in a very big body to replace them. That body’s name is Kelvin Benjamin, and he’ll probably be Cam’s go-to wideout this year. I’ll be conservative and predict 1,200 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns for the rookie. We gotta be realistic here. And you want to talk about clutch? Benjamin made the biggest catch in the biggest game to cap off one of the best seasons in college football history. Just print those Super Bowl T-shirts right now.
Their division is crap
Basically, it’s beat the Saints and you’re in for Carolina. The Bucs are mediocre at best, and the Falcons are a bunch of soft turf turds with a terrible defense. I mean, the Texans dropped 32 on them in the preseason with Ryan Fitzpatrick getting first-team snaps.
So just win more games than the Saints? Panthers got that. Even if they don’t, landing one of the Wild Card spots in the NFC isn’t hard. The Packers did it at 8-7-1 last year. Carolina went 5-1 in the division and is the most well-rounded team in the NFC South. That balance will be reflected in their final record.
Their schedule is cake
9/7/14 @ Tampa Bay — Panthers demolish the Bucs by 50, send every fan home crying
9/14/14 vs Detroit — Cam rushes for 150 yards and 2 TDs, Panthers cruise
9/21/14 vs Pittsburgh — Charles Johnson sacks Big Ben thrice, Panthers dominate
9/28/14 @ Baltimore — Luke Keuchly makes Dennis Pitta soil himself, Panthers roll
10/5/14 vs Chicago — Jay Cutler throws nine picks, Panthers win with their eyes closed
10/12/14 @ Bengals — Panthers win in a blowout, dine on fine Skyline Chili after the game
10/19/14 @ Green Bay — Lambo leap? More like Cam-bo leap. Panthers win, duh
10/26/14 vs Seattle — Benjamin makes Sherman say kind words about him, Cats eat Birds
10/30/14 vs New Orleans — Who dat gonna beat them Saints? The Panthers, dats who, by 27
11/10/14 @ Philadelphia — Cam shines in primetime, goes for 500 all-purpose yards in win
11/16/14 vs Falcons — Falcons forget to cover Greg Olsen on every play, Panthers win
BYE WEEK — Panthers win anyway
11/30/14 @ Minnesota — Seriously? Of course the Panthers win
12/7/14 @ New Orleans — Jimmy Graham ejected for hanging on goal post, Panthers win
12/14/14 vs Tampa Bay — Panthers rest all their starters, still win by three touchdowns
12/21/14 vs Cleveland — Merry Christmas, Manziel — here’s a 13.6 QB rating and a loss
12/28/14 @ Atlanta — Matt Ryan throws four TD passes — to the Panthers, who win again
Reasons for pessimism
While there’s a lot to be excited about, I suppose doubters might point toward a lack of chemistry with the new receiving corp or Cam’s health as reasons to be worried. It’s true: Steve Smith had been Newton’s go-to guy for all three years of his short career, and stacking a fractured rib on top of offseason ankle surgery would seem to indicate he’s in for a tough year. But the defense is good enough to keep Carolina in games while Cam learns the habits of his new targets. If there’s one thing to really be concerned about it’s his mobility. But learning to rely on his football IQ and strong arm is just a normal part of Newton’s growth into an elite QB. Plus, he probably spoiled fans out of the gate with an NFL-record 14 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. His modest six last season was still good for a tie with Geno Smith atop the NFL among QBs. Even coming off injury, Newton is still one of the most athletic players at the position.
Actual season prediction:
After stumbling out of the gate, a stout defense and the emergence of Kelvin Benjamin help Carolina to a 10-6 season. Panthers beat the Saints in both head-to-head matchups, but are relegated to a Wild Card spot because of a Week 1 loss to the Bucs.
Images via Getty / Gif via gfycat