NFC South Opponent Preview: Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 9: Carolina Panthers cheerleaders dance during the first half of the game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

If you caught my last post about the Falcons, you know that I believe they will be the Saints' biggest competition for the division title this season. And after doing some research on the Panthers, I haven't changed my viewpoint.

I'm not sure, but I think the Panthers scouts look for the most difficult names to spell on college rosters and recruit them. It's ridiculous how many players they have with difficult names and spell-checking won't help. I'm going to wade through this as best as I can.

Join me after the jump to enjoy the Carolina Panthers' spelling bee...errr, I mean preview.

Offense

Unless you've been in a coma for the last year and a half, you've heard the name Cam Newton. He is the Panthers starting quarterback and most valuable player. In his first year in the NFL, he broke several notable records such as most passing yards for a rookie quarterback and the most rushing yards and touchdowns in a season for any quarterback. His record-setting season did not translate into the Panthers having a winning season record, however.

While Cam Newton put up impressive numbers, his team floundered through the season until the final six games. Four of their six wins came at the end of the season which was way too little, way too late. A large part of that was a lack of defense. Last year their defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL food chain and allowed nearly 27 points per game. This year they are hoping Cam Newton will improve from having a full offseason, training camps, OTAs, and preseason. They are also hoping they have enough upgrades on the defense to stop some of their opponents.

The rest of the offense will still showcase Steve Smith as the number one receiver and have Brandon LaFell as the number two receiver. Their 3rd receiver slot on the depth chart was supposed to be filled by David Gettis, but he was placed on the PUP list recently. There are five more wide receiver candidates competing for a place on the roster: Louis Murphy, Joe Adams, Kealoha Pilares, and Seyi Ajirotutu, and Armanti Edwards. You can see what the Panthers fanbase is saying about these guys right here.

The Panthers plan to keep three tight ends, it seems. Greg Olsen sufficiently fills the starting role. The other two will probably be Gary Barnidge and Ben Hartsock.

The backfield will probably consist of three running backs and a fullback. We already know what Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams bring to the table, especially combined with their highly mobile quarterback. The final spot at RB will more than likely be filled by Tauren Poole while Mike Tolbert is locked in as the starting fullback. The Panthers rushing attack last season was quite effective if you factor in Cam Newton's rushing yards and touchdowns, but will he rely on his legs as much as his arm this season?

Defense

Last season the Panthers' defense was terrible. It's a major reason they didn't win more games last year and they have tried to upgrade certain positions this offseason. The biggest upgrade is Luke Kuechly at outside linebacker. He was a highly-touted draft choice by Carolina and so far, he comes as advertised. Other than that, I'm a little lost trying to find major and even minor upgrades at other positions.

I'm pretty certain the other two starting linebackers will be Jon Beason and James Anderson. Beason is solid as a middle linebacker although he's returning from an injury that kept him sidelined most of last season. Anderson recorded almost 200 total tackles last season which could be attributed to the loss of Beason.

Their secondary will probably be the deepest area on the roster. I'd expect their cornerbacks to be Captain Munnerlyn (my favorite NFL name ever!), Chris Gamble, R.J. Stanford, and Darius Butler. They also have Brandon Hogan and Josh Norman on the current roster but I'm not sure if they're camp fodder or not.

As for the safeties, Charles Godfrey and Haruki Nakamura are penciled in as starters. Nakamura was brought in to compete with Sherrod Martin and has apparently taken the starting slot from him.

So my overall take on the Carolina Panthers is that they will be more competitive this season but not much more compared to last season. I know there's a lot of hype surrounding Cam Newton's improvement, but the hype has to translate into wins. Even though the defense has some upgrades, I don't see the consistency you get with a playoff caliber team. They are on their way to being a more complete team, but it will take some time for the team to develop its identity.

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