Why the 2024 Carolina Panthers Will Make the Playoffs

Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) gets ready to throw the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) gets ready to throw the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
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The 2024 Carolina Panthers will not be the worst team in football. I wrote early last week that they could be the worst team in football, but I do not believe that will happen again this upcoming season. Do I believe that they can challenge for a playoff spot? That might be a stretch, but much like the potential Carolina finishing as the worst team in football, a playoff berth is within the potential range of outcomes. Here's why.

The Dave Canales Effect

Dave Canales is the King Midas of the NFL. Every quarterback he touches turns to gold. Canales is young, energetic, charismatic, and by all accounts a good leader. But, most importantly, he knows how to squeeze every last drop of potential out of his quarterbacks.

We saw it in Seattle. We saw it in Tampa Bay. And we'll need to see it in Carolina if a playoff berth is the goal. Bryce Young was disappointing in 2023. Full stop. Yes, his weapons struggled to separate and his offensive line did him no favors, but Young failed to light it up even when circumstances were favorable. Canales was brought in to change that.

Young compares favorably to Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is slightly bigger and stronger, Young is more athletic and accurate. However, the two currently sit in the same tier of NFL quarterbacks. Under Canales' tutelage, Mayfield had the best season of his career and delivered Tampa Bay a playoff berth (and win) in the first year of the Post-Brady era. Carolina hasn't made the playoffs since 2018. Young will need to have a 2023 Baker Mayfield-like ascension to change that, and Canales is exactly the man in charge to make that leap a reality.

A Weak NFC South

Our very own Schuyler Callihan recently detailed Carolina's chances at winning the NFC South. It's far from impossible.

Since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002,  28 teams have gone from worst to first. Most recently last season's Houston Texans. If there is a division to do it in, it's the NFC South. Tampa Bay returns a ton of talent, but replacing their play-caller could lead to some growing pains. Derek Carr and Dennis Allen have yet to prove their mettle in New Orleans, and a cap-crunched, aging roster is primed to disappoint. The stiffest competition for Carolina resides in Atlanta.

The Falcons' big three skill players of Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and Bijan Robinson can go blow-for-blow with any trio in the NFL. However, questions still loom for Atlanta. Kirk Cousins is recovering from a torn Achilles, Raheem Morris is a new head coach, and Atlanta (like Carolina) lacks an elite pass-rusher. The Falcons roster boasts oodles of talent, but talent has failed before and Carolina could pounce if it does in Atlanta.

Defensive Continuity

Carolina's defense isn't a particularly talented unit. The pass rush lacks juice. After trading Brian Burns, Carolina is relying a committee of edge defenders to rush the passer instead of a singular star. Time will tell how that plan works out. The linebacker unit is also unproven, and the back end lacks shut down options outside of Jaycee Horn. So what do I mean by continuity?

Ejiro Evero and his entire defensive staff has been retained. For returning players, that is a massive advantage compared to outfits learning new schemes. Jaycee Horn said it himself last week: “It’s always a benefit just staying within the same scheme..it’s just perfecting the scheme more and more. It’s a blessing to keep those guys on the defensive side of the ball and made it an easier transition for everyone on the defense.”

For incumbent starters Derrick Brown, Shaq Thompson, and Xavier Woods, familiarity in Evero's scheme allows them to step up as leaders to help their young teammates grow. The Panthers finished as a top ten defense in 2023. If they can repeat that performance and get more from their offense, the playoffs are in sight for a franchise desperate for success.


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Matt Alquiza

MATT ALQUIZA