There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the NFC South being wide open. With the retirement of Tom Brady, the sharks smell blood in the water and are ready to crown a new king of the south. There is some truth to this thought process.
Most people are writing off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are reigning back to back division champions. With household names like Brady, Julio Jones, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Fournette gone, it’s proven to be too difficult for most to analyze this Bucs’ roster. As a result, it has become common to see Tampa Bay projected as one of the worst teams in the NFL next year.
In theory, this leaves the door open for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. With no dominant team among this group there can be a case made for any of them. This also means that a case can be made against them.
In this series I will highlight the teams in the NFC South and why each of them have a clear path to failure. Each team is flawed and any of these flaws could be the downfall of a given team.
The Carolina Panthers, are undeniably, one of the up-and-coming and teams in the NFL. They have a strong foundation on defense and an offense chock-full of young talent. However, I must emphasize the word young.
That first and foremost applies to rookie quarterback Bryce Young. Admittedly, I believe he will be a very good NFL quarterback. However, rookie quarterbacks seldom burst onto the scene at an elite level.
A realistic stat line for a rookie quarterback, in a good situation might look something like 3500 passing yards with a 2-1 touchdown to interception ratio. That would be one of the best rookie quarterback seasons of all time, but would it be enough to guide the Panthers to the playoffs?
I would argue no, considering he lacks a true number one receiver on the roster. I expect Young to play a full season behind an up-and-coming young offensive line, but both will experience growing pains. Very good by rookie standards might not be good enough.
The Defense also has a good deal of young talent on it. The likes of Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn are all very good players still on rookie contracts. This is a strength, not a weakness.
With that said, where is the veteran leadership on this defense? Can they really count on the likes of players like Shaq Thompson to lead this team to the playoffs? Things like leadership and intangibles may not seem important in the face of pure talent, but these things are the difference between playoffs and watching from home.
The Panthers Are Actually Very Solid
The thing I really like about the Panthers is they have no great weakness. I look at this roster and I see a team that is solid across the board. This should keep them in the mix all season long.
They have high end players such as Burns, Brown, Chinn and a pair of bookend tackles. There is a lot to be excited about with the future of this team.
However, they aren’t great anywhere. Not at defensive line, not offensive line or even their secondary (which might be their strongest unit). This leads me to believe that they are still a year away from being able to take this division.
If I’m being completely honest, I respect this Panthers team. They seem to be heading in a very positive direction and fans should feel optimistic….but they shouldn’t hold their breath for this season.
While they have no obvious weakness, they also have no great strength. They don’t have the rushing offense of the Falcons or the defense of the Bucs. As someone who believes that teams with elite strengths win in this league, that makes it very difficult for me to buy into the Panthers winning anything in 2023.
Next year might be a different story as this promising young core continues to develop. Next year I might even view the Panthers as the team to beat in the NFC South. However, next year is a long way away when you are hoping to win now.