2015 Carolina Panthers Predictions: 2nd NFC South (2014 record: 7-8-1)
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
NFC South Division Odds: +150
Super Bowl Champion Odds: +3200
Season Win Totals Over-Under Odds: Over 8.5 (+125), Under 8.5 (-155)
Key Additions: Charles Tillman (CB), Ted Ginn (WR/KR)
Key Losses: D’Angelo Williams (RB), Greg Hardy (DE)
It was a tale of two seasons for the Panthers last year; the first season saw them go 3-8-1 and lose six straight at one point. The second saw them go 4-0, sneak into the playoffs, and make it to the Divisional Round against the NFC Champ Seahawks. The front office, true to form, decided to stay status quo by not addressing any weaknesses via free agency. Different year, same story for the Panther organization.
Many will point to the solid performance by the defense as the biggest reason for the turnaround last season, as they didn’t allow more than 19 points in any game over the final six contests. Considering, however, that they played the likes of Cleveland, Tampa, Minnesota…it’s not really surprising. They’re solid, but have the potential to be very good.
The pass rush struggled a bit without the suspended Hardy; Charles Johnson was the only lineman to produce any consistent pressure. One of a trio of uninspiring youngsters will need to step up and help from the other side. DT Star Lotulelei will miss a bit of time with a foot injury, and fellow DT Kawann Short is suffering from back issues in camp. This leaves Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards as the only vet tackles on the roster; they’re a combine 69 years old.
The secondary was the most improved unit after some unproductive players were benched; they and the outstanding linebacking crew should be very good; even better with some improved line play.
It’s perplexing how the Panthers never seem to help the face of the organization by improving his side of the ball. Cam Newton is counted on to do way too much every season, and 2015 appears to be no different. Sure, he still has WR Kelvin Benjamin and TE Greg Hardy to toss the rock to, but with no other consistent receiving threats double coverage on wither of them is a given. Devin Funchess was drafted in the second round (perhaps a round too soon) but he’s not a full-time player, much less a full-time receiver.
The RB slot is all Jonathan Stewart’s now, based solely on his performance in the second half of the season. What the organization might not remember is that Stewart has missed 20 games in the past three years and has no viable backup when he inevitably gets injured. The line is OK; much better on the inside than at the tackle spots, where the regressing Michael Oher will be counted on to protect Newton’s blind side. Oher’s game has diminished significantly and it’s hard to fathom a career rebirth. Fellow tackle Mike Remmers was horrible last season; watch footage of the playoff loss to the Seahawks to find out how bad he was.
Aside from a brutal four-game stretch against Seattle, Philly, Indy, and Green Bay, the Panthers have a fairly easy schedule. Add to it that they play in the worst division in the NFL, and the opportunity for a .500 season is always there. The defense should continue its strong play from the latter part of 2014, and the offense may do just enough to finish near the top of the division. OVER