The Panthers are looking to turn the page after what has been a disappointing run since their Super Bowl 50 loss. They’ve made that especially clear this offseason by bringing in a brand new coaching staff and a slew of free agents. Not only is Carolina under new leadership, but their division will likely be as well after Tom Brady’s retirement. Brand new faces all around the organization as well as an unknown ceiling means lots of question marks approaching the season. With that being said, here’s five feasible goals for the Panthers’ season, from least to most difficult.
Establish a Number One Wide Receiver
This is something that is almost bound to happen over the course of the season. The question is, who will it be? With the departure of DJ Moore, the Panthers are lacking a solidified top receiver for the first time in years. With rookie quarterback Bryce Young in position to start, the role is anyone’s for the taking if they can form a connection.
Adam Thielen is the favorite heading into the season as the veteran of the group. Terrace Marshall Jr. and Jonathan Mingo are viewed as two players who could exceed expectations and become the certified person at the position. DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault also have a shot should they click offensively with Young. Having a designated top receiver will likely help the team game plan, and help Young form a connection.
Justify the Bryce Young Pick
Most fans are heavily in favor of this decision already, but a good season from Young wouldn’t hurt. Acclimating to NFL football will take time for the rookie quarterback. He likely won’t set the world on fire from the first moment, as few rookie quarterbacks have.
The key will be patience and allowing him to grow. A big part of that will be on the offensive line keeping him healthy. A lot of his draft concerns were about durability given his size, so a healthy season would shut down some of those concerns.
Outperforming CJ Stroud and Anthony Richardson would also help prove that the Panthers were spot on in viewing Young as the draft’s top quarterback. Additionally, a good season record-wise would decrease the value of their pick that Chicago now owns, making the deal look better as a whole.
Win the NFC South
One of the most straightforward goals for any NFL team going into a season is to win their division. The Panthers will be looking to do exactly that for the first time since their 15-1 NFC Championship season in 2015. Between Drew Brees’ Saints and Tom Brady’s Buccaneers, the NFC South has been on lock over the last few years. Now with both in retirement, the division is up for grabs.
Tampa is coming off back-to-back division titles, while all three of their rivals made major additions over the offseason. Each of the four teams have changed quarterbacks since the start of last season. The Panthers and Falcons did so through the draft, while the Saints and Buccaneers picked up free agents to fill the spot.
With all four teams entering the season as question marks, it can truly be anyone’s year. This means each divisional game will be crucial, with the race possibly coming down to week 18. If the Panthers can perform well with their new crew, they have a great shot of achieving this goal.
Have a Top 10 Defense
This may seem like a tough challenge for a defensive unit that was in the bottom half of the league in 2022. Looking back to 2021 wouldn’t instill much more faith, until a deeper dive into statistics. That year the Panthers allowed the 12th most points, but surprisingly the second fewest yards in the whole league, only trailing the Bills.
As mentioned, they took a step back last year allowing the 11th most yards and 14th most points. Now under new Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero in 2023, they have a chance to utilize young talent and establish themselves. With names like Brian Burns, Jaycee Horn, Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn and more, this defense seems due for a good year.
If they’re ever going to have one, it’ll be under the guidance of Evero, who was expected to land a head coaching job this offseason. Between new coaches, developed talent and veteran additions, this defense has all the tools necessary to be great this year.
Win a Playoff Game
The most daunting of these five potential goals, a top tier season could produce a wildcard round victory. A division title, no matter how mediocre the record may be, comes with at least the number four seed and a home playoff game.
The Buccaneers won the division with a record of 8-9 last year, and hosted the 12-5 Cowboys in the wildcard round. Unfortunately for them, it went as their records would suggest, with Dallas picking up a 31-14 victory. This isn’t always the case though, as the 2014 Panthers won their wildcard game against Arizona, despite their 7-8-1 record.
No one knows where the NFC South will stack up as compared to the rest of the league, but if the Panthers can win it then they have a reasonable shot at their first playoff victory since 2015. A division title run would certainly energize the fan base, which would lead to a booming crowd at a home playoff game. It might not be likely, but a playoff win in Young’s rookie season could be in the cards if all goes well.
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Featured image courtesy of the Carolina Panthers.
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