Schuyler Callihan: 7-10
There are still a lot of unknowns about Sam Darnold and how successful he will be in Carolina. If he plays much better than expected, Carolina could be pushing teams for a playoff spot. That said, this is still the youngest team in the NFL and at some point this season, it will show. Thanks to a very favorable first half of the schedule, we may not see it for quite a while but the back half of the season is going to be extremely challenging. The defense has the talent at all three levels to be a top 10 defense in the league but much of that will come down to how well Jaycee Horn plays as a rookie and how much of a stride 2nd-year player Jeremy Chinn and Derrick Brown take. I see Carolina getting out to a 5-3 start but then dropping seven of their last nine. 2022 will be the year where we can expect Matt Rhule to get this team to the playoffs.
Matt Alquiza: 7-10
The ceiling for this Panthers team is through the roof, but it depends on two things: Sam Darnold and the offensive line. The defense should be above average, and the offense is littered with playmakers. However, I’m banking on the offensive line being subpar and Sam Darnold to struggle because of that, and an average season seems to be on the horizon in Carolina. There are winnable games early and the schedule isn’t particularly difficult, but the Panthers are at least a year away from being serious playoff contenders. Hopefully, we see flashes of a good team in 2021, but they’ll be few and far between as the Panthers float through mediocrity for another year.
Josh Altorfer: 9-8
The Panthers’ 2021 season can be described with one word: potential. They have the necessary pieces in place to have a winning season although they are likely still a year away from making a legitimate postseason run. Matt Rhule has been able to install an extremely talented young defense that is only really missing some continuity. The offense ultimately rests on Sam Darnold's right arm but he has elite talent around him to help carry the load. The biggest question mark going into the season is the offensive line. Altogether, this could potentially be a very good team down the road. Potential does not always win in the NFL, however. 2021 is the defining year that will tell us if Carolina is headed in the right direction or not.
Tyler Ball: 8-9
Darnold is going to need a couple of full games against starting defenses to finish meshing with his WR core. I think we saw a positive spark by reuniting Anderson with Darnold in the preseason. Marshall and Tremble both have the potential to become favorite targets for Darnold. It is important to keep in mind this is still only year two of the Rhule rebuild and another first year with a new QB leading the team. There will be some mistakes but this team has the right leadership to learn and grow from those mistakes.
Jeff Haseley: 7-10
I firmly believe the success of the defense will determine just how well this team will finish. The end stretch with games at Miami, at Buffalo, at New Orleans, along with a home-and-home series with Tampa Bay is going to be a challenge. If they are to break 7 or 8 wins they will need a strong start and win the games they should win. I'm sure fans would prefer an 8 or 9-win season but if it takes a few weeks to find the right mix at offensive line, or if there is any ramp-up time for Sam Darnold to fully gel with this offense, the end result may be 7 wins or less. This team is building swagger, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which is something we have not seen from this group since the famed 2015 season with Josh Norman's presence. With swagger comes confidence. With confidence comes wins, and wins are contagious. If Carolina can start off 2-1 or even 3-0 it will be a huge boost to their psyche as the season progresses. Once they start to prove that they expect to win, all bets are off on how good the team can be. Nobody expected a 15-1 season, it had a magical way of becoming what it was. If Carolina can find their way, the magic will follow.
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