2021 record: 5-12
2022 bye week: 13
Most impactful additions: QB Baker Mayfield, OT Ikem Ekonwu (first round), RB D’onta Foreman
Most impactful departures: QB Cam Newton (is that really a loss?), LB Haason Reddick
Easiest part(s) of schedule: There are no long stretches where one might say the Panthers could rattle off a long win streak, but if they were to do that, it likely would be in the opening four weeks with the opener against an unsure Cleveland Browns team, at the Giants, and home for the Saints and Cardinals.
If they can open up 3-1 there, which is a distinct possibility, after their roughest patch from Weeks 5 through 7, they get Atlanta twice in three weeks.
A three-week run through at Seattle, Pittsburgh (home) and Detroit (home) could prove beneficial immediately after the bye week.
Toughest part(s) of schedule: Like I said a couple of paragraphs ago, that October run of San Francisco, at the Rams and home for Tampa Bay could present a problem, and if they win any of those, it could be an even better season than the one I am optimistically projecting here.
Caesars over/under win total: 6.5 – Over +100 / Under -120; Odds to win Super Bowl LVII at +12500
Book it: OVER. This is one of my strongest plays on a win total of any of the previous 29 previews I have done.
Assuming Christian McCaffrey can remain healthy (of course that is a HUGE if) and the Panthers’ defense resembles anything like last year’s No. 2 ranking in the NFL, then it seems like 6.5 wins is an incredibly easy over to play. Regardless of what one thinks of Baker Mayfield, there is ZERO question he is a major upgrade over Sam Darnold, who had already lost his job before his injury.
The only thing that keeps me away from putting a few bucks on some of those crazy futures (Is this the Cincinnati Bengals bet of 2022?) like +6000 to win the conference and +12500 to win the (cough, cough) Super Bowl is Coach Matt Rhule, who shoved off offensive coordinator Joe Brady in unceremonious style last season to bring in his buddy, Ben McAdoo.
In all honesty, Rhule could be the only thing standing between this team and an NFC South title, because all they need to compete is to move up offensively from No. 30 to the middle of the pack or so. Sounds a lot like another team we’re going to preview in a couple of days – except that team has a much better coach and organization around him.
Ah, let’s don’t get too ahead of ourselves.
Projected finish: 9-8
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