Preseason Lowdown : Carolina Panthers

football, preseason, teams, panthers

What’s the story? 

Chances are good that you might remember the story from this past year (a worse-than-it-sounds 7-9 season) less clearly than you remember the story from season prior (a better-than-it-sounds 6-10 season). The reason? Cam Newton was on fire in 2011. He was the league’s RGIII/Russell Wilson/Colin Kaepernick. He even made the Pro Bowl! This past season was a definitive sophomore slump. The Panthers might have won an extra game in 2011, but it was a far cry from what they had anticipated at the start of the season.

Leader and commander:

Ron Rivera, who is in a make-it-or-break-it third year as the Panthers head coach.

New kid on the block:

The Panthers tried to shore up their defense with two defensive tackles high in the draft, Star Lotuleli and Kawann Short. Also, long-time Panther WR Steve Smith got some free agent friends this season. Former Giant Domenik Hixon and former Niner Ted Ginn Jr. were both signed in the offseason in an effort to alleviate Carolina’s receiving corp woes.

Last year was…

…good enough for 2nd in the NFC South, bad enough to lose 8 of the first 10 games and get the GM fired. And it wasn’t just that they lost a lot early on, it was the way that they lost that made it such a downer of a season.

Survey says:

It’s  easier to repair leaks in a ship than it is to get the captain to steer differently. The Panthers have the defensive rookie of the year in Luke Kuechly, drafted well on defense, acquired tools that they need to have a great offense this season, but they’ll also need Cam Newton to take charge as a mature leader to prove that they’re better than 21st overall.

Divisional Breakdown : NFC South Teams

Today we’re heading south, as in the NFC south. Here’s a look into those teams:

The Atlanta Falcons

History: In 1965 the city of Atlanta built the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which ended up being the catalyst for their push for a football team. Both the AFL and the NFL were interested in placing a team in Atlanta (this was in 1965 – pre-merger) but the executives eventually chose to go with the NFL. The Falcons made a Super Bowl appearance in 1998 and had mostly successful seasons under QB Michael Vick, who, after serving time in prison for dog fighting, returned to the NFL to play with the Philadelphia Eagles (where he still plays today).

Current Players to Know: Matt Ryan, QB, is nicknamed “Matty Ice” for his calm and cool demeanor on the field. Michael Turner is a beast of a running back. Tony Gonzalez has played for 16 seasons as a tight end and really started the revolution of the position.

Head Coach: Mike Smith

2011 Regular Season Record: 10-6

What to Watch For in 2012: The Falcons have had their fair share of crushing playoff loses in recent years. This season, they believe they can go all the way. However, so does every team. But if they could make a run for it, this would be the year – likely Tony Gonzalez’s last.

The Carolina Panthers

History: In 1987 the NBA brought the Hornets to Charlotte. This created a buzz with local businessmen who wanted to bring an NFL expansion team to the area, too. In 1993 the NFL unanimously decided to award the Carolinas the newest expansion team. The Panthers played the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII and lost.

Current Players to Know: Quarterback Cam Newton was the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He lived up to (and perhaps even surpassed) expectations by having a great season, even though the Panthers were 6-10. Steve Smith (WR) can catch anything. Jonathan Stewart (RB) is bringing some life back to the Panthers running game this year.

Head Coach: Ron Rivera

2011 Regular Season Record: 6-10

What to Watch For in 2012: Continued improvement is expected for the Panthers, who have a relatively new coach and new quarterback. They weren’t as bas as their 6-10 record indicates last year. I bet they’ll be at least 8-8 this season, maybe better.

The New Orleans Saints

History: New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise in 1966. The early years weren’t kind to the Saints, though they’ve had a rich history of players and coaches. The Saints were so bad at one point that fans wore paper bags over their heads while attending games. But after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Saints became a source of healing for the ravaged city. They won the Super Bowl four years later, spurred on by the passion of the city. However, they’ve been the source of much controversy as of late with a major scandal (allegedly putting “bounties” on players) that resulted in multiple suspensions – most notably head coach Sean Payton, who has been suspended for the year.

Current Players to Know: Drew Brees (QB) is the heart and soul of the team. He leads the team in a specific pregame chant that changes every season. Jimmy Graham is a former basketball player who is continuing the trend of domination at the tight end position. Jonathan Vilma, who just had his year-long suspension overturned but will still miss half of the season due to injury and might even get re-suspended by the NFL, is the leader of the defense.

Head Coach: Sean Payton (Interim Head Coach: Joe Vitt) (Interim Interim Head Coach while Joe Vitt Serves His 6 Week Suspension: Aaron Kromer)

2011 Regular Season Record: 13-3

What to Watch For in 2012: The Saints have a lot to overcome this season. Along with the devastating bounty repercussions, they also had a lot of contractual issues to work out with Drew Brees this offseason. They have to play the first 6 weeks of the season with an Interim Interim Head Coach…and then the next 11 with an Interim Head Coach. All while the bounty controversy rages on. It’s going to be rough.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

History: The Bucs actually joined the NFL as an AFC team in 1976. They were moved to the NFC the following year. Jon Gruden coached the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in 1992, a year after Tony Dungy had been fired as head coach.

Current Players to Know: Josh Freeman has been decent at quarterback ever since he was drafted in 2009. Vincent Jackson is a new Buc, having spent most of his career as a wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers. Ronde Barber has been a Buc forever, specifically since 1997. He plays cornerback/safety.

Head Coach: Greg Schiano

2011 Regular Season Record: 4-12

What to Watch For in 2012: The Bucs new head coach incited quite the controversy this weekend when he told his players to try to make a move to disrupt the ball on the last play of the game when the Giants were in the victory formation. Lots of people called it an unprofessional move…but at least he’s coaching to win the game. He’s teaching his players how to fight for 60 minutes. And that could definitely lead to good things in the future.