NFL Preseason Picks: Carolina Panthers

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10, New York Giants 10-6

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints 11-5, Atlanta Falcons 13-3 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Smith, 34, isn’t getting any younger. Can Newton and him continue to stay afloat in the NFC South?

Carolina had nothing less than a disappointing season in 2012. Former Rookie of the Year Cam Newton was coming off a red-hot debut, only to follow it up with some sophomore blues. It didn’’t help that the Panthers are in a tough division, but lesser teams have been in tough divisions before and have won. There is no room for excuse in professional sports; the struggle is necessary for victory.

Steve Smith continues to be the ageless wonder that never ceases to be a threat from anywhere on the field. He was heavily responsible for the Panthers Super Bowl run back in 2004 — back then he was paired with the tepid passer Jake Delhomme. For a third year he will be the main target of Newton — a younger, more athletic signal caller whose track record bursts with promise. However, inconsistency and claims of immaturity have plagued him. Newton still needs to establish reliability in the NFL or he may be riding the pine as a back-up on a more prominent squad someday. The Panthers have a new offensive coordinator in Mike Shula, who will simplify things while keeping the play call aggressive. No more of the gimmicky plays they attempted on teams; expect a balanced attack that allows the immense dynamism of a rushing attack from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Newton is also surrounded by more talent as the Panthers have added proven secondary weapons Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn. This offense has a lot of potential, but results must change.

With the tackling-machine Luke Kuechly being the nucleus of the Panthers defense, expect a stronger leadership role from the sophomore linebacker in 2013. Carolina upgraded their defensive line to join the trend of focusing on the pass rush in 2013, as well as upgrading their secondary. They will not be a prominent run-stopping team in the next season, but they will be much more capable of defending the pass, which is something that they have had large amounts of trouble with as of late. The defense will not be the strong suite of this team but they should do enough to get by.

Prediction:

I believe that the Panthers will improve from last season and post a record of 7-9. This is surely not good enough to make the wild card — let alone challenge the division. The word “potential” is thrown around a lot in conversation about the Panthers. I think that they are a team that is indeed on the rise, but needs to take an even further step to be a playoff contender. That step begins with the maturation of Cam Newton, who needs to show that he can be a leader and have control over a playoff-caliber team. Things like this take time, and I don’t believe that Carolina has enough time in 2013.

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