Cantor Gaming, arguably on of the most respected sportsbooks in Las Vegas, has released its highly anticipated NFL season win totals. The Carolina Panthers are slated for a losing year, as their season win total checks in at 7 wins (Even). Carolina is at +2500 Odds to win the NFC Championship and +5000 Odds to win Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Panthers are in a weird transition. They have a coach without guaranteed job security in Ron Rivera and a new general manager in David Gettelman. They have a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton but not a lot of cap space to build around him. A 7-9 season was disappointing, but technically an improvement over 2011's surprising six-win season.
Six weeks before the season, sixth-year center Ryan Kalil set the bar high in a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer, guaranteeing a Carolina victory in Super Bowl XLVII. On cue, the Panthers stumbled out of the gate, losing eight of their first 10 games. Most disheartening was the stretch at Atlanta, against Seattle, against Dallas and at Chicago, in which Carolina lost by an average of three points. In the minds of most, the 2-8 mark was where the Panthers' season ended. But they improved from that point on, winning five of their last six on the way to a runner-up finish in the NFC South.
Most of the blame for Carolina's frustrating first half was assigned to Cam Newton, while the eroding depth at several key positions -- most of them on the defensive side -- was largely ignored. Newton was criticized for fumbling away late chances to beat the Falcons, Seahawks and Cowboys. Then, he was criticized some more for taking losses too personally, not focusing on football during the Panthers' bye week and calling a reporter "sweetheart." The Panthers need to have a veteran QB push Newton.
The linebacker corps, with Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Jon Beason and James Anderson is absolutely stout as currently composed. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are a nice combination at defensive end. The Panthers defense emerged as a force late in games down the stretch, conceding an average of 11.3 points in the second half -- a 13-point improvement over their first 10 games.
If any unit seems vulnerable to a crisis of confidence, it's the defense. Tackle Dwan Edwards was an afterthought signing who became a steadying force on a line that was in constant flux. He matched a career high in tackles (52) and registered more sacks last season (6.0) than in his previous seven (5.5). He seems like exactly the kind of player that GM Dave Gettleman would not re-sign simply to differentiate himself from his predecessor. Should that come to pass, I'll give the D no time to rediscover its late-season swagger.
2013 schedule (all times ET)
Sep. 8 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 1 p.m.
Sep. 15 at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.
Sep. 22 vs. New York Giants, 1 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m.
Oct. 20 vs. St. Louis Rams, 1 p.m.
Oct. 24 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:25 p.m.
Nov. 3 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 at San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m.
Nov. 18 vs. New England Patriots, 8:40 p.m.
Nov. 24 at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Dec. 1 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m.
Dec. 8 at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m.
Dec. 15 vs. New York Jets, 4:05 p.m.
Dec. 22 vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m.
Dec. 29 at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.
Pick: The Panthers will be a sleeper pick for the playoffs this year. Cam should have a big year and the running game will be much more improved. I full expect them to get to at least 8 wins this, especially if the defense plays like it did down the stretch last year.
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