It’s early, i know that. We haven’t even had camp yet, but that doesn’t stop folks from speculating and prognosticating what is going to happen during the regular season.
With that said, I’m putting on my wizard hat and looking deep into the crystal ball for visions of what will happen in the season to come.
We’ll check this against reality in a few months during training camp to see how close (or most likely how far) I am from reality.
1) Matt Moore will be the unquestioned starter for the Panthers throughout the season. I don’t think Clausen sniffs the field unless there is an injury to Moore. Considering how long it took Fox to pull the plug on Delhomme last season — and that it took an injury to do so — I can’t see Fox pulling Moore unless he has several bad games in a row and the Panthers are out of playoff contention. I don’t think that’ll happen, and I think Moore rides through 2010 as the starter.
2) Jonathan Stewart will end up being the featured back. Stewart it finally healthy, so the story goes. I’m not saying DeAngelo isn’t talented, but I think Stewart is the kind of back they want on the field more than Williams. We saw what Stewart did last season behind a line that was shuffled due to injuries and with a bum wheel. Imagine what he can do when healthy. I think this is the season where Stewart becomes the feature and Williams is the change of pace.
3) The Panthers will win at least 10 games. Looking at the schedule, there is a lot of opportunity for the Panthers to win games against teams as equally matched as they are. With a good offensive line and running game, the Panthers should be tough to beat. If Moore plays the way I think he will, this offense will be in the top third in the NFL all season long. Defensively, there are still questions, but we’ll cover that in another prediction.
4) The defensive line will be fine. Nobody will miss Julius Peppers. Perhaps the boldest statement i’ve made yet … but there is a method to my madness. Who were the starting defensive tackles last season? Did they do anything? The Panthers had to go out and get veteran Hollis Thomas off the scrap heap to have a road bump up the middle. No knock on Thomas, but there was a reason he was without a job that late into the season. The Panthers went out and traded draft picks on two guys — Louis Leonard in Cleveland and Tank Tyler in Kansas City — who were being forced to play out of position in a 3-4 alignment. Both showed great promise on the field, and both suffered season-ending injuries shortly into their tenure with the Panthers. Add the preseason injury to Corvey Irvin into the mix, and the Panthers have added more talent and potential to a defensive interior than the Panthers had entering camp last season. Let’s face it; Kemoeatu and Lewis weren’t exactly lighting it up in the middle. Kemoeatu was a space eater, but that was about the extent of his worth on the field. Lewis was an undersized rusher that didn’t create pass rush. He was a decent player, but definitely not irreplaceable. The money this team saved, matched with the opportunity to get players that also have potential to be better more playing time was worth the risk.
Let’s not forget the Julius Peppers who was wildly inconsistent. Sure, there were times where he’d blow up an All-Pro tackle, but then there were other times where he’d be easily handled by a team’s backup tight end. Perhaps the Panthers won’t have as many explosive plays that Peppers would make once in a while, but I think they’ll be more consistent and solid every snap.
5) This team will set a record for interceptions this season. When Chris Harris was traded to the Bears, it became evident that they wanted to trade his hard hitting mentality for a ball-hawking backfield. Sherrod Martin fits the bill with his speed and awareness. Harris missed tackles on occasion going for the big hit or trying to strip the ball. With Martin and Godfrey on the field, the Panthers will play more Cover 2 defense relying on the safeties’ speed and ball-skills, which, I think, will result in more interceptions.