Roundtable: What is the Biggest Determining Factor of Carolina Making the Playoffs in 2021?

The All Panthers staff weighs in on what could make the Panthers a playoff team.
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The Panthers went just 5-11 a year ago but wholesale changes were made to the roster this offseason that have folks believing the Panthers could be a fringe playoff team. In this week's roundtable, our staff discusses what might be the determining factor of Carolina reaching the postseason in year two under Matt Rhule.

Josh Altorfer:

It’s tough not to say that the Panthers' playoff chances will be determined by how well Sam Darnold plays. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Darnold will have to go toe-to-toe with former MVPs Tom Brady and Matt Ryan and those are just the rival QBs in his division. He needs to be able to stretch the field without making too many mistakes. The good news is that he has a ton of weapons and a great scheme to get the job done. The bad news is that the offensive line has a lot of question marks which is a big reason Darnold struggled so mightily in New York.

Jeff Haseley:

As much as the defense is the biggest need for a turnaround compared to the 2020 season, the offense may be the biggest factor. If Sam Darnold fails to meet the expectations set out by the team, the entire team could fall prey to the same struggles. In the potent NFC South, offensive success will be needed to keep pace in the win column and Darnold is the keeper of that flame. If his fire is extinguished, the chances of saving an ember of hope diminish greatly. 

Darnold's ability to right his wrongs of the past is a big piece to the puzzle of the Panthers outlook this season, but it's not the only concern. The defense will need to improve on a woeful third-down conversion allowed percentage. Adding a potential shut-down corner in Jaycee Horn helps them in the secondary but also with their pass rush. Expect to see the defensive line reach their target more often compared to last season. The Panthers' defense has youth on their side and with each passing game, their experience grows. A little factor called luck is also needed for Carolina to have a chance at a playoff berth. At least one of Tampa Bay or New Orleans will need to take a step back. The odds suggest it will be the Saints as they try to keep their winning ways without soon-to-be Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Anything can happen in an NFL season and Carolina is poised to continue to improve under head coach Matt Rhule. How far they come is yet to be determined, but the pieces are in place for them to surprise in the NFC South.

Tyler Ball:

I think it’s gonna come down to how quickly Darnold can get momentum with the offense and honestly, I think it could come down to the accuracy of the kicking game. If Slye can dial in it’ll give the Panthers the edge to win close games.

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