SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Gil Brandt, senior analyst for NFL.com and vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys from 1960-88, predicted big things from Cam Newton and the Panthers on his visit to training camp last season.
He returned to camp Sunday and took a look back and forward.
"It's easy to predict success when you have a Cam Newton, when you have (Luke) Kuechly and when you have (Kawann) Short," Brandt said. "It's easy. It was just a question of time until they were going to break out, and they did."
Coming off a 15-1 season and a Super Bowl appearance, what do you see the Panthers doing for an encore?
"This will be a better team this year, but the record won't be better. You've got to go to Denver to open up. Everybody says they're going to be down, but it's still playing Denver on Thursday night. They also have to play back-to-back at Oakland and Seattle. Oakland is going to be better, just probably not as good as they're going to be in 2017. Then there's also Arizona here. When you include all those things, I think the schedule is tougher, also because of travel and so forth. But in saying that, I think Cam is going to be better."
Are there unique challenges that come with trying to follow up on such a successful season?
"Yes, for a number of reasons. The number one reason is that everybody is trying to beat you. Number two, the guys probably don't work as many days and as hard as last year, and they don't even realize it. You cannot stand still. But I will say Charles Johnson and Kawann Short look great, and sometimes those big guys can get heavy in a hurry."
How do you see the 2016 season playing out, and who is a team to watch out for that nobody is really talking about?
"The competitive balance in this league gets closer ever year. In Las Vegas this year, there were only five teams that they set the over-under at 10.5 wins. That means there are only five teams that they think might win 11 games.
"I think Minnesota can make some noise. They've got a really good runner (Adrian Peterson), and they made a great draft choice with their first pick that will really help their offense (wide receiver Laquon Treadwell)."
The Panthers, by the way, host Minnesota in Week 3.
View photos of Carolina's 13th day of practice at training camp.