NFC eye test predictions: 4-1

The best of the best in the NFC.

4. Carolina Panthers

For some odd reason, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are good every other year. After going 7-9 in the 2012 season, the Panthers won the division and finished 12-4 in 2013. The following year, they managed to win the division, despite only winning seven games. In 2015, Newton’s MVP season, Carolina was one game away from a perfect regular season. Last year, due to a Super Bowl hangover, the Panthers won only six games. This means a big season is coming up for Carolina.

The Panthers brought in Matt Kalil, who will play alongside his brother, Ryan, a top notch center. Still, this offensive line is pretty poor, and is the main reason Cam Newton struggled last year.

NEW ERA (CBS Sports)

To take some pressure off Newton, Carolina beefed up the run game by drafting Christian McCaffrey with the eighth pick in this year’s draft. McCaffrey is pure grit, the people’s champ, the ultimate teammate. He must have been using an agility ladder right out the womb, and starting lifting since age six. McCaffrey looks to be an immediate impact in Carolina’s backfield, but don’t forget about Jonathan Stewart. The 30-year-old had over 800 yards, and nine touchdowns in 13 games during last year’s regular season.

Though not great, the receiving core could turn into something special. Obviously Greg Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the game, and Kelvin Benjamin, who looked way out of shape at the beginning of the offseason, looks to be just fine. Benjamin has been a consistent player who could take off and become a top 10 receiver. Let’s hope Devin Funchess can make a giant leap as he heads into his third season.

The experienced trio of Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson, and Mario Addison, should continue to get after the opponent on the ends. Kawann Short, who signed a new deal worth $80 million, is a monster at defensive tackle. Barring injury, this is a top 10 defensive line.

The linebacker combination of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson, is arguably the best linebacker core in the NFL. If Kuechly stays healthy, he is easily one of the top defensive players in the league.

When Josh Norman left after the Super Bowl season, the secondary took a major hit. Fortunately, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley now have some experience under their belt. Look for this pass defense to bounce back, after finishing 29th in passing yards allowed a season ago.

Cam Newton is good, and will not have two down seasons in a row. They added a serious playmaker in McCaffrey, and the young receivers continue to grow. The defense is extremely solid, and if they can figure out defending the pass, the Panthers will be a serious threat come postseason play. This is an 11-win team.

 

3. New York Giants 

The Giants will be playing in this year’s Super Bowl, but they won’t end up with the best record. In their last two Super Bowl victories, New York finished 9-7 and 10-6 during their respected regular seasons. Coming off an 11-win season a year ago, the New York Football Giants are back.

It’s hard to make a case for Eli being an elite quarterback, but he has lowered the turnovers and has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in the previous three seasons. The offensive line isn’t too good, which is why Eli forces throws, as well as why there is lack of success in the run game. Paul Perkins played well in his last preseason game, which is huge because if the Giants can run the ball, they could easily finish as the number one offense in the NFL.

Scary Trio (SNY)

Even if the running game is subpar, the Giants have the best targets in all of football. Odell Beckham Jr is the most talented player in the NFL, and Brandon Marshall can still do big things. New York desperately needs these guys to get to 100 percent, because of how much sauce and talent they bring. Second year WR Sterling Shepard looks to keep rolling after 8 touchdowns during his rookie year. The Giants selected Evan Engram with the 23rd overall pick in this year’s draft, and he is already a player to watch.

This is one scary defensive line. Jason Pierre Paul and Olivier Vernon both got paid, and deserved every penny. DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison not only has a legendary nickname, but is quite the player.

Not a lot of talent at linebacker, but the secondary is elite. Last year, Landon Collins finished third in defensive player of the year voting. Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie are all extremely skilled corners.

The offense will be scary good, and the defense is full of studs. The Giants will win the division with 11-12 wins, and playoff Eli will get them back to the Super Bowl.

 

2. Seattle Seahawks

Love or hate the rowdy, excessive gum chewing coach, Pete Carroll has changed the culture in Seattle. Did drafting Russell Wilson help with the success? You bet.

All he does is win. (Grantland.com)

Russell Wilson took over in 2012. The Seahawks have won double digit games each year since 2012. This guy is a winner. Even with their pathetic offensive line, Wilson is able to keep plays going with his elusiveness and super power arm.

After finishing 25th in rushing yards, the Seahawks brought in Eddie Lacy to help bolster the run game. Not really too sure what to expect from him, Thomas Rawls, or CJ Prosise.

Jimmy Graham is the most talented of these pass catchers, but Doug Baldwin is still Wilson’s favorite target. Jermaine Kearse looks like he might get traded, but Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson will both play big roles. To be honest, it seems like Seattle has a new hero every week at wide out.

The defense is still incredible. DE’s Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Frank Clark combined for 26.5 sacks last year. Bobby Wagner and K.J Wright are right up there with the best of them, when it comes to linebacker duos. And, The Legion of Boom, headlined by Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas, is still the best secondary in the land.

This team will continue to do win because that’s all Russell Wilson does. Judging by their schedule, this looks like a 12-win season and a first round bye for Seattle.

 

1. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is just too talented. It’s not even like this roster “wow’s” anyone. The fact that Rodgers is the quarterback is all that needs to be said.

After back to back 10-6 seasons, the Packers are in dire need for more success. Rodgers is, without question, one of the most talented quarterbacks ever. However, only one Super Bowl victory has his legacy at a standstill.

Will Rodgers and the Packers get back to the Super Bowl? (Sporting News)

Not a major run team, the Packers finished 29th in rushing attempts last year. No need to run that much when you have Aaron Rodgers, but Ty Montgomery showed he is very capable of moving the chains, after rushing for 5.9 yards per carry last year. Granted it was only 77 attempts, we don’t know how Montgomery will do as the number one, but Jamaal Williams, more of a pure running back, could slide in and have a major role. These backs should have good protection with Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari manning the edges.

The receiving core is among the best in the NFL. Jordy Nelson is arguably a top 5 receiver, and Davante Adams took a major leap in his third season, hauling in 12 touchdowns. Randall Cobb has slightly regressed, but is still a valid option. The tight end trio of Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, and Richard Rodgers, could cause serious matchup problems for defenses.

A decent defensive line, a below average linebacker core, and essentially no help at corner, the defense is a bit lackluster. However, no problem at safety, with Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Nick Perry, who is dealing with an ankle injury, recorded 11 sacks last year. So there is some talent on this side of the ball, but it’s hard to forget that this team allowed the second most passing yards, and the fourth most passing touchdowns, a season ago.

A monster regular season is coming for Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. 13-3 is very in reach. Lack of passing defense will deter this team from going to the Super Bowl, but the Packers should cruise in the regular season.

 

Featured image by SI.com

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NFL top 100 players 2017: 20-11

The NFL season is right around the corner and all the lists of top players of the NFL are out. There is only one problem with these lists: they look back on the 2016 season too much. This list will look forward to the 2017 season and predict who will be the top 100 players for the 2017 season. The Game Haus staff compiled their lists together to rank who they think will be the top 100 players this upcoming season.

This is the ninth installment, containing players 20-11.

20. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs

NFL Top 100

Eric Berry (Photo by youtube.com)

Berry is a winner in every sense of the word and his ability to come back after beating cancer and still being one of the best safeties in the NFL, is incredible. In 2016 Berry totaled 77 tackles, nine passes defended, four interceptions, a forced fumble and two touchdowns.

With other players on the Chiefs’ defense getting hurt the last few years, Berry has been the best player on the defense. This season, Kansas City should have a good defense once again with a lot of their players healthy. They employ the bend don’t break mentality, so they give up a lot of yards (5,896), but not a lot of points (19.4). With Berry coming off one of his best seasons as a pro and a good defense returning, he will prove once again how good of a safety he is .

The Chiefs are fighting to make it to an AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl and if they get there, Berry will be a major reason why.

Comments: “This man can do it all. Beating cancer and beating down his opponents. This Chiefs defense has been great and will continue to be great while he is roaming the field.”- Robert Hanes

19. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

NFL Top 100

Drew Brees (Photo by denverpost.com)

There are a lot of quarterbacks on this list, but they may not be as important to their teams as Brees is to the Saints. He was 37 in 2016 when he threw for 5,208 yards, 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on 70% completion and will be 38 going into this season.

People have predicted that Brees would fall off for years now, but he keeps producing. He had his fifth 5,000 yard passing season last year and also recorded his second highest passing yards per game in his career. The Saints do lose Brandin Cooks, who they traded to the Patriots, but Brees still has Michael Thomas, who shows some real potential. Brees has done a lot more with a lot less.

Brees might start slowing down a little bit, but even if he does, his stats will still blow other quarterbacks out of the water.

Comments: “There is nothing bad I can say about Dree Brees other than he is aging. The fact of the matter is he is still producing. He should be higher on this list just because I think he is a better quarterback than Matt Ryan. He will have another season in which he passes for 5,000 yards and become closer to being the all-time passing leader. -Matthew Hagan

18. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

NFL Top 100

A.J. Green (Photo by cbssports.com)

Because of injury, Green had his first season of under 1,000 receiving yards in 2016. He only played ten games and still amassed 964 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Had he played a full 16 games and kept up his average receiving yards per game, he would have finished with a whopping 1,542 receiving yards.

The Bengals had a down year and only had Green on their offense as a dynamic playmaker. For the 2017 season, they have added John Ross and Joe Mixon to bring some life to the offense. Tyler Boyd had an impressive rookie year and will try to build on that in his second season. If Andy Dalton has time behind a shaky at best offensive line, he will find Green, much like he has since their rookie seasons in 2011.With a speedster in Ross on the other side of the field, Boyd in the slot and Tyler Eifert in the middle, Green should see more single coverage than last season with Brandon LaFell as the second leading receiver on the team.

Green has some offensive reinforcements this year, which should really open up the offense and allow him to have a great year.

Comments: “When healthy Green is a lock to put up great numbers, even though he sees double coverage most of the time” – Dylan Streibig

17. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns

NFL Top 100

Joe Thomas (Photo by sportingsorta.com)

It is unfortunate that Thomas has played on the Browns his whole career and hasn’t had an opportunity to win anything. He is one of the most consistent players in the NFL. In his first ten years in the league, he has never missed the Pro Bowl and has six All-Pro team appearances.

The Browns won’t be expected to win the division this year, but they should be much improved. Thomas will continue blocking for Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson and hope that the passing attack that ranked 28th in the league improves. The starting quarterback may change, but they will have Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and David Njoku as their main targets.

Thomas will continue to do his job at an elite level, but it once again will not result in a good win total for the Browns.

Comments: “This man is extremely loyal and I hope that Browns fans truly appreciate that. He has been a top 3 LT for years and has done it with bad everything else around him. Cleveland finally has good o-line pieces around him which could put them as a top offensive line for the first time in Thomas’ storied career”- Robert Hanes

16. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals

NFL Top 100

Patrick Peterson (Photo by patrickpeterson21.com)

Peterson made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season of 2011 and hasn’t looked back. He has six straight Pro Bowls and has made the All-Pro team three times. Last season he recorded 50 total tackles, six passes defended, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

The Cardinals defense gave up the fourth least passing yards per game in 2016 and Peterson was a big reason why. They will be without Tony Jefferson, who signed with the Ravens, so a lot will fall on the shoulders of Peterson and Tyran Mathieu. Peterson will be required to shut down opponents’ best receivers and will do a great job once again.

At age 28 Peterson will be in his prime and ready to roll for the 2017 season.

Comments: “Peterson is consistently one of the best corners in the NFL. He shuts down opponents’ best receivers and is a ball hawk when the ball is thrown his way. This season Peterson will once again prove to be a premier talent at corner.”-Joe DiTullio 

15. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Top 100

Le’Veon Bell (Photo by espn.com)

The only problem with Bell is his ability to stay on the field, as he has only played 18 games in the last two seasons. Part of the reason he misses games is injury, the other being a suspension. In his 12 games, last season Bell had 105.7 rushing yards per game and nine total touchdowns.

Pittsburgh’s offense is going to be a juggernaut once again with the talent they have returning. Ben Roethlisberger will be back after contemplating retirement. He will have Antonio Brown, who will be ranked in one of the next 14 spots, and a few other good targets to throw to, helping keep the offense balanced. The offensive line has been solid the past few years and will open up holes for Bell.

Adversaries can’t stack the box against Bell because of how talented the rest of the offense is, meaning that he has a chance to put up a lot of big numbers in 2017.

Comments: “It is comical that Bell is ranked this low. Bell is clearly the best running back in the NFL and a top five player. He was the first player in NFL history to average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards passing. Averaging 150 yards from scrimmage is straight stupid. If this was my list he would be much higher.” -Matthew Hagan

14. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders

NFL Top 100

Derek Carr (Photo by twitter.com)

Carr will have to recover from his broken leg that knocked him out of last season, but he has had an impressive first three years as a pro. If he can keep on progressing and help the Raiders win some meaningful games, the sky is the limit. In 2016 he threw for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 games.

The biggest thing Carr has done since arriving in Oakland is help increase the win total. In his first year the Raiders won three games, seven the second year and they won 12 of the 15 games he started last year. The offense should continue to be dynamic with one of the best offensive lines in football. They also have Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as good targets for Carr. The offensive line will block well for Marshawn Lynch and any other back Oakland plans on using, which will help create the balance that offensive coordinators love.

The Raiders will have a great offense once again and Carr will be the trigger man making things happen in 2017.

Comments: “Let me get this out of the way, Derek Carr is a stud. But, is he a top 15 player in the league right now? No, he still has to prove that he can do this consistently. He has plenty of potential and showed last year he can get the job done. If he can do that again this year, then he will be deserving of a top 15 spot.”-Robert Hanes

13. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

NFL Top 100

Rob Gronkowski (Photo by washingtontimes.com)

Injuries are the only thing holding one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game back. He hasn’t played a full 16 games since his second year in the NFL, but did play 15 games in 2015. He had eight games played in 2016. In those eight games he had 540 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

If Gronk is healthy he can have a big year in 2017. The Patriots added Brandin Cooks, another outside threat. Defenses will have to make up their minds about double covering Gronk, or one of the other productive receivers. The defenses will likely choose to double cover Gronk most of the time and he will still make them pay. If they focus their attention on one of the receivers, Gronk might have a career day.

Health is the biggest concern with this ranking, but when he is healthy Gronkowski is one of the best players in the NFL.

Comments: “One can only wonder how much higher Gronk would be on this list if he could stay healthy. If he can for the rest of his career he will easily go down as a top 5 TE of all time.”- Robert Hanes

12. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

NFL Top 100

Matt Ryan (Photo by twitter.com)

Ryan had the best season of his career in 2016 and it really isn’t even close. He took the Falcons to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1990s and won the MVP award. On top of that, he threw for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The Falcons’ offense will be dynamic again in 2017. Julio Jones, who will be ranked within the next 11 players, is one of the biggest matchup problems in the league. Mohammed Sanu also provides a good option. The offensive line is good and will protect Ryan well enough for him to survey the field. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman do a good job running the football and Freeman adds the ability to catch out of the backfield.

He may not win the MVP in 2017, but Ryan will be the man in charge on one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL.

Comments: “I’m of the minority that Matt Ryan gets too much love. I am not a believer in him as much as others. He has been gifted with talent around him. He is a solid quarterback but  I think he is a fringe top 25 player.” -Matthew Hagan

11. Luke Keuchly, LB, Carolina Panthers

NFL Top 100

Luke Keuchly (Photo by si.com)

It is unfortunate that Keuchly had concussion problems and missed six games, but he still had a good year that resulted in his fourth Pro Bowl. He also has three appearances on the All-Pro first team. In ten games last season Keuchly had 102 tackles, two sacks, six passes defended and an interception.

Keuchly’s versatility makes him great. He has great instincts that allow him to play the run and is one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL. Carolina’s defense wasn’t good last season, ranking 25th in scoring. Having Keuchly for a full year will drastically change that number for the better. They allowed 24.6 points in games he played and gave up 27.8 points per game without him. With all key players back and healthy and Julius Peppers on board, the Carolina defense can vastly improve.

If Keuchly is able to play he will be a top player in the NFL without a doubt.

Comments: “Luke Keuchly is the best pure linebacker in the NFL. He has great athletic ability and instincts, which he uses to his advantage. His instincts help him near the lead in tackles in the NFL every year he is healthy. The athletic ability helps him cover. He is also a very cerebral player that raises the level of play of the entire defense when he is on the field.”-Joe DiTullio

NFL Top 100 Players 2017: 30-21

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NFL Free Agency

Early NFL Free Agency: Sneaky Good Moves

The game of quarterback musical chairs is snagging the headlines early in NFL free agency like every year. If you do not have a quarterback who is at least competent, you have no chance in this league. However, every position matters. Here is a look at some sneaky good moves in the beginnings of the free agent frenzy.

Phil Dawson: Arizona Cardinals

Phil Dawson

Photo: sportsoutwest.com

Yes folks, a kicker. Arizona lost five games by one possession and tied another during last year’s seven-win campaign. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed 11 combined field goals and extra points. These things are not entirely unrelated.

Meanwhile, 42-year-old Phil Dawson missed just four total kicks for the 49ers. As crazy as it sounds, this may be a pivotal move in Arizona’s quest to return to the postseason in 2017.

 

 

 

Ronald Leary: Denver Broncos

Ronald Leary

Photo: hngn.com

Whoever winds up taking snaps for the Broncos next year will have much more protection. This is a heck of a start. Leary did not allow a sack while starting 13 games in Dallas last year. He has been a stalwart on the best offensive line in football since 2014.

Denver’s ability to sack the opposing quarterback in recent years is well documented. In 2016, the Broncos had just two more total sacks than their opponents. That is crazy considering the Broncos have both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Poor offensive line play is also one of the reasons Denver struggled to break 50 rushing yards in a game for parts of 2016. Do not be surprised if center Matt Paradis is the only starting offensive lineman that returns in 2017. Last year’s free agent offensive line signings of Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung proved to be disastrous for Denver.

To become legitimate Super Bowl contenders again, the Leary signing needs to be the first step in another massive offensive line overhaul in Denver. The Broncos have also added former Raiders offensive tackle Menelik Watson to the fold.

A.J. Klein: New Orleans Saints

A.J .Klein

Photo: zambio.com

As long as Drew Brees is in town, the Saints will always be able to score. However, they have finished outside the top 25 in total defense for three straight years. While a single player will not change that, Klein is a step in the right direction.

Playing behind Luke Kuechly limited Klein’s snaps in Carolina. When he did see the field, he was reasonably productive. Klein took part in 137 tackles in Carolina despite starting just 23 games in four seasons. Additionally, three years and $15 million is a fairly cheap price to pay a 25-year-old contributor from a division rival.

           

 

Kevin Zietler: Cleveland Browns

Kevin Zeitler

Photo: stripehype.com

It is no secret that the Browns need work everywhere, and the offensive line is no exception. Zietler was one of three early moves the Browns made up front. The former Bengal is now the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

While the contract numbers are eye-popping and the Browns have an alarming tendency to screw things up, signing a guard from a division rival who has given up just 11 total sacks in five seasons is never a bad move.

March is all about basketball. However, the NFL’s version of March Madness is certainly worth continuing to keep an eye on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Franchise Analysis – Carolina Panthers

It’s safe to say the Panthers Super Bowl hangover was real, as 2016 was not kind to this franchise. Coming off their appearance in Super Bowl 50, expectations were higher than ever. How did a team with the defending NFL MVP go from first to worst in their own division?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

With any team, a quarterback will get all of the credit, and all of the blame as well. It looked like Cam Newton finally realizd his potential and established himself as one of the next great quarterbacks. It was evident this season that something wasn’t right with the 2015 NFL MVP.

Overall, this offense finished 15th in points and 19th in yards. That’s a drastic drop off from finishing first and 11th in those respective categories in 2015. Was Cam Newton really to blame for this sharp decline in production? The answer: not entirely.

The 2015 Panthers ran the ball 526 times, which was more than any other team. Next season they only attempted 453 runs, good for seventh in that category. Many factors contributed to this decline. First, Jonathan Stewart missed three games. The Panthers averaged less than 100 yards rushing and three turnovers per game during that stretch.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

Will Cam Newton try to reincorporate running the ball as part of his game for the 2017 season? (Courtesy of; ABC News Radio)

Second, Cam Newton failed to run the ball effectively. At times, he even seemed unwilling to run. Compared to his MVP season, he rushed the ball 42 fewer times and scored five fewer rushing touchdowns. This could be the result of the punishment he continually took this season. It’s smart for Newton to run less, but he’s always been more effective as a threat to run.

In the last two seasons, the Panthers are 14-5 when Newton has at least seven rushing attempts and are 6-2 when Newton runs at least 10 times. Double-digit rushing attempts is probably too much, even for Newton. He has to find a medium between running too much, and not at all. Since his completion percentage has never been above 60 in consecutive seasons, running the ball must be a part of his game.

Third and finally, the Panthers offensive line did not produce to the same level as they did in 2015. Michael Oher, Mike Remmers and Dan France couldn’t stay healthy enough or play well enough to maintain the run game.

Entering 2017, this offense needs to focus on rebuilding their running attack in order to shake off the Panthers Super Bowl hangover.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

If the 2016 Panther’s offense took a step back, then the defense fell off a cliff. This defense finished 26th in points and 21st in yards after being top 10 in those categories a year ago. Specifically, this team could not stop anyone through the air.

In 2016, opponents on average had three less passing attempts against the Panthers per game, but had more success. They gave up 34 more passing yards per game on average. That may not seem like much, but 34 yards equates to three more first downs per game. That impacts field position and scoring.

It’s evident that this unit missed Josh Norman. He’s not the sole reason for this decline. However, when this defense is still top 10 against the run and is decidedly worse against the pass, his absence played a role in contributing to the Panthers Super Bowl hangover.

Apart from inconsistent play from young but talented players, the Panthers’ defensive scheme needs tuning. This defense would routinely ask linebackers and defensive linemen to play an active role in coverage. Using less athletic defenders to cover tight ends and slot receivers should be used sparingly, not featured. If this defense can adjust their scheme to minimize the impact linebackers and defensive linemen have in coverage, they will undoubtedly improve.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

Luke Kuechly’s return in 2017 will no doubt have a positive impact on this lackluster Panthers defense. (Courtesy of; Deadspin)

The Panthers also suffered from one of the most heartbreaking injuries of the season. It was painful to see Luke Kuechly miss the last six games as a result of a concussion. Kuechly is always one of the best linebackers against the run and is incredibly versatile in coverage. The Panthers will no doubt improve with a healthy Luke Keuchly back in the lineup.

What’s incredibly frustrating about this defense is that they finished second in sacks and 10th in third down defense and teams could still pass against them. This team needs more consistent play from all of their players. It’s clear they are capable of top defensive play, but they must become more consistent if they wish to return to the Super Bowl.

 

Divisional Analysis

Unfortunately, the Panthers reside in the NFC South. This division is the best in terms of quarterback play from top to bottom. What other division has a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, two MVP’s, and a rising star all at the quarterback position? Thus, the Panthers have to build their team to combat such players.

The Panthers are already capable of rushing the passer. They must upgrade their secondary to get more consistency against the pass. There are a plethora of good defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the eighth overall pick, the Panthers will be able to address this need, should they make it a priority.

With players like Marlon Humphrey, Quincy Wilson, Marshon Lattimore, and Adoree’ Jackson available, the Panthers will have plenty of good options. Because there are so many good defensive backs, they could look to trade back and still be able to select one of these top prospects.

They could also use this pick to address their diminished rushing attack. The Panthers could make a splash and select Leonard Fournette. Infusing a talent like Fournette in this offense could allow the Panthers to return to their 2015 dominance.

The Panthers could also use this opportunity to address their left tackle position. If Cam Robinson is not on the board when the Panthers pick, I don’t see them selecting a tackle. There isn’t a player, besides Robinson, worthy of a top 10 selection at this point.

The point is, the Panthers were dominant when their offense was effective running the football. They were able to keep the opposing teams’ quarterback off the field, and thus limit their impact on the game.

Postseason Prospects

Clearly, the Panthers have certain strengths that give them the potential to be a playoff team. Here are the Panthers’ ranks in the following offensive and defensive metrics that can indicate postseason success.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

It’s nearly impossible for an NFL team to be great in every facet of the game. Often, teams are very good at a few things, and are at least competent at the rest. For Carolina’s offense, they weren’t particularly good at any one part of the game. Yes, they finished top 10 in time of possession. Outside of that metric, they were mediocre in all other categories.

This doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t improve next season. However, the Panthers need to re-establish their identity as a run first team. If they are successful, they will have increased time of possession, third down conversion rate, and allow less sacks.

Panthers Super Bowl hangover

While the drop off for the defense was significant, they still show flashes of greatness. Finishing in the top 10 in three of these categories is great. However, they failed to even be average in terms of points and yards allowed. If they could have just been top 20 in both of these statistics, this team would have had a chance to make the playoffs.

Hopefully the Panthers will continue to build upon the defensive success that made them conference champions in 2015.

2017 Predictions

I see improvement in the Panthers future. They will be returning key players who missed time from injury, as well as acquiring new talent through the draft and free agency.

The only question is, will the coaching staff and quarterback be willing to regain their run first mentality? I think the answer is yes. However, with ascending teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta, the Panthers Super Bowl hangover will remain. I like Carolina to improve to 9-7, but miss the playoffs.

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Super Bowl 50 Storylines

Well at least I got one half of the Super Bowl 50 match up right. The matchup is set and on February 7th the champions of the NFC, the Carolina Panthers, will face the champions of the AFC, the Denver Broncos.

Let’s start first with the Carolina Panthers.

This is the second time the Carolina Panthers franchise will be playing in the Super Bowl. They last played in Super Bowl XXXVIII, where they played the New England Patriots and lost in stunning and devastating fashion. They lost the game 32-29 by a game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri on the last drive of the game manufactured by Tom Brady.

But this 2015 Carolina Panthers team is not that team. This team has that Championship Swagger. That actually starts with the Head Coach Ron Rivera. Coach Rivera was a player on the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl winning team. You all remember them, right? The Super Bowl Shuffle, doesn’t ring a bell? Rivera will be head coaching his first Super Bowl game on the 7th of February in Santa Clara, California. And he has coaching experience at Super Bowl when he was the Defensive Coordinator for the Chicago Bears in their last Super Bowl run. His team is riding high after their drumming of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game.

The Panthers offense is led by Cameron Newton, the probable NFL MVP this year. Mr. Newton wants to be the first Heisman trophy-winning QB to win the Super Bowl since Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XV. Cam also could be the only QB to ever win a junior college national championship, a NCAA national championship, and a Super Bowl championship. Newton is also playing to be the 3rd African American QB to win the Super Bowl in the whole history of the NFL. The first being Doug Williams in Super Bowl XXII for the Washington Redskins. Russell Wilson is the second African American QB to win the Lombardi Trophy. Wilson won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks.

Most importantly he, his team, and the Carolinas just want to see the Panthers win their first Super Bowl in the team’s history. If the Panthers win this Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons will be the only team in the NFC South to not win a Super Bowl game.

The Carolina defense is led by LB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly has led the NFL in tackles since his rookie season in the league.

The Panthers D is strong on all three levels. The defensive line features pass rushers like, Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy. The defense is hopeful they can get Jared Allen back from his foot injury that sidelined him for the NFC Championship Game. The D-Line also features space eaters like Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei at the defensive tackle spots.

The linebackers are led by Kuechly and season veteran Thomas Davis, which is battling a broken arm. Their starting rookie linebacker, Shaq Thompson, will play their strong linebacker.

The secondary is led by shutdown corner, Josh Norman, and by ballhawking safety Kurt Coleman. These young DB’s will lean on seasoned veteran DB, Charles Tillman, on how to handle the biggest stage they have every been on.

On to the AFC side.

The Denver Broncos franchise has been to the Super Bowl quite a bit of times but has only won two Lombardi Trophies. Those trophies were won by their current GM, John Elway. He and the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII in Elway’s last season. If Denver wins, it will be their third Lombardi Trophy.

With that 3rd title they will have the 4th most Super Bowls by a franchise. They already have the most appearances (8) and the most losses (5). The last time we saw the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl they got crushed by the Seattle Seahawks by 35 points in Super Bowl XLVII.

This Denver team has some of the same faces but they have a new coach. Gary Kubiak will also be head coaching in his first Super Bowl Game, but he was the Offensive Coordinator for the two Denver Super Bowl teams. His team barely survived the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. They had to defend a 2-point conversion to win the game 20-18.

This Denver offense is led by the “Sheriff”, Peyton Manning. His season hasn’t been his best by far, but he will be able to play in Super Bowl 50 for a chance to get his 2nd Super Bowl Ring in four tries. His two rings would match GM John Elway and his little brother, Eli Manning. With this win, Peyton will be the 12th multi-Super Bowl Ring winning QB. But unusually Peyton’s team’s strongest side of the ball is the defense.

Denver’s defense is super talented on every level as well. Their defensive line has stars like Derek Wolfe as the defensive tackle and Sylvester Williams as the nose ackle in their 3-4 defense.

And “4” in that 3-4 is maybe the best linebacking crew in the NFL. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are the inside linebackers and DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are the outside linebackers. And the rookie Shane Ray will also see the field a favorable amount on the field.

Denver also has one of the best backfields in the game. They have shutdown corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. who made a great play on 4th and 1 in the AFC Championship game. Bradley Roby will also see some time at nickel corner. Their hard hitting safeties in the middle of the field are T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart. Their backups, Josh Bush and Shiloh Keo, also bring the wood.

Prediction: I am a completely torn between these two teams. I am as old as the Carolina Panthers. I was born in 1995, so were the Panthers. I am a native Carolinian and I am an African American, so I would love to see Cam win one. And on the other hand there is Peyton Manning. I would love for him to win his second ring. I couldn’t decide so…I flipped a coin. It landed on heads, so I am picking the Carolina Panthers. As much as it pains me to go against Peyton Manning, I am. The Carolina defense will get to Manning around 3-5 times and the pressure will make Peyton turn the ball over. Cam will be dancing on the field with the Lombardi Trophy and put an exclamation point on his and his team’s 18-1 season. I can’t go against the Panthers again this postseason.

#KEEPPOUNDING