Carolina Panthers—this Year’s Dark Horse Candidate?
It is easy for the talking heads in the media to pick who the likely Super Bowl contenders will be in New Orleans at the end of this season. Going with teams like the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, or Green Bay Packers is safe; everyone is going to.
The true challenge is in picking the dark horse team; the one that could get to the Super Bowl if certain things fall their way. When it comes to dark horses why not the Carolina Panthers?
When Ryan Kalil printed his ad promising a Super Bowl win just about every talking head and know-it-all blogger (guilty)said he was nuts. Logically speaking, he is. However, if you let your imagination go a little it is possible to see a scenario in which the Panthers can make it to the Super Bowl.
Key in the equation will be Cam Newton of course. If he experiences any sort of sophomore slump than the whole thing is shot. The Panthers need him to play much like he did last season, but better (and more consistent. He was all over the place last season. He threw for 400+ twice, 300+ once, and less than 200 four times; three time he threw three or more interceptions, but only twice did he throw as many touchdowns.
“As we’ve looked at it, the big thing that we really truly believe is he has to improve his entire football game,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “…We believe he can improve in every facet of his game from his footwork, to his mechanics, to his decision-making process, to the way he runs things in the huddle…”
The reason is pretty clear; the better he plays the more likely the Panthers are to win.
It isn’t going to be all on Cam Newton’s shoulders though (that just wouldn’t be fair). The offense as a whole is going to have to continue to gel and improve as a unit. Even more important will be the health of the defense. Losing two starting linebackers early last season was the beginning of the end. Should the defense remain healthy and perform better as a result the Panthers will have a real shot.
When it comes to a dark horse candidate just personnel is not enough. The team has to need some help from outside sources. Some of that they got courtesy of bounty-gate and their schedule.
The Panthers could easily be 4-0 or 3-1 going into the bye during Week 5. It would not be surprising to see the Saints falter coming out of the gate (Week 1) since the team does not have a head coach at the helm (yet). The Giants are notorious slow starters and could be primed for an upset. Seattle looks to be more competitive than they were last year, but they are still a one-trick pony (Marshawn Lynch). Should they be missing that pony the Panthers should roll over the Seahawks.
Following the break it will be key that the team comes out with confidence and believes they can beat anyone. Starting off with a bang will be key to getting wins against Dallas, Washington, and Tampa Bay. Should they get to Peyton Manning they could steal one from Denver. Philly will be tough, and if Jamaal Charles is still healthy Kansas City will be too.
The final four will be the last straw. Atlanta will be tough, but San Diego has been a flop late in the season and the Raiders are just not that good. After sweeping the depressed Saints in the final week they will qualify at the least for a wild card with a record of 10-6 or 11-5.
Of course getting into the playoffs will be the easy part. Once they get there they will have to face the likes of the Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Bears, or Lions in the wild card. With Dallas’s recent history of fails in the post season they would be the preferred (that of course means Dallas wins the NFC East—I’m talking dark horse here. It’s supposed to be a stretch!).
A win there would stick them up against either the Packers or 49ers in the division round; the one they don’t face they’ll see in the conference championship.
To be honest folks, barring injuries and really bad play by some key people for both teams I think the Panthers would have a pretty hard time getting past either team. I don’t see a scenario that moves them past either or both teams otherwise.
But hey—this is supposed to be a scenario that puts a dark horse team in the Super Bowl; logic is not part of the equation!