Peter King of Sports Illustrated did a preseason ranking of NFL teams this week on SI.com for the upcoming season. If you like surprises, the preview has a few presents. If you like the Panthers, it leaves you wanting more.
The Panthers were slotted eighth in the poll, and King had some good things to say about the team. He also pointed out to be careful of reading too much into his prognostications, saying he picked the Bears to win the Super Bowl a year ago while ranking the Saints 24th.
The truth is that King was not alone and deserves props for pointing out his choices from last year. No one knows how a season is going to unfold. Head coach John Fox says that each season takes on its own personality, and that is very true. (He also says the same about each game, which is true as well.)
So many things can turn a season one way or the other.
Sometimes it is an early season game, such as the Panthers last-play victory over the Chargers at San Diego to start the 2008 season. A week later, Carolina trailed the Bears at home late in the second half, but with the experience of the opening week still fresh, rallied for another come-from-behind win and a 2-0 start. The same pattern played out in 2003 after a dramatic win over Jacksonville on opening day.
Other times an early season injury may throw a season off course. That was the case a year earlier when quarterback Jake Delhomme injured his arm in a Week 3 win at Atlanta, turning the schedule into a season-long merry go-round at quarterback.
It is only natural to prefer a positive perception, but coaches have their limits. They want their teams to be respected, but most will shy away from being the team predicted to win the Super Bowl. The Panthers were Sports Illustrated's cover boy in 2005 and made it to the NFC Championship game.
At the end of the day, preseason predictions are mostly fan fodder for bar debate and talk radio. They can be a gauge, but how many experts picked the Saints to win it all before last season?
After a winter of transition in Carolina, general manager Marty Hurney has said that the upcoming team will be young, but not inexperienced.
An unproven veteran quarterback is a shortcoming for critics, but incumbent Matt Moore's eight starts have resulted in a 6-2 record. Experience is a plus along the offensive line, which will return intact everywhere but right guard. The running backs and wide receiver Steve Smith speak for themselves.
The defense comes with different starters along the line, but the linebacker and secondary levels return seven players who started or contributed heavily to a 2009 unit that finished eighth in the league.
It is a team King calls "dangerous." Others will disagree. That is the fun of previews.
Charlie has been director of communications for the Panthers since 1994 and has been in the NFL since 1976.