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An improved Carolina Panthers squad might be overrated in 2020

An improved Carolina Panthers squad might be overrated in 2020
Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

This is a story we all know too well. A team from the cellar rises from the ashes, retools, and ascends into greatness. This year, it looks like the Carolina Panthers may be the team trying to accomplish exactly that. However, it might be too soon to crown the Panthers anything but overrated in 2020.

Hype in football will drive fans into the seats that is if the success of the offseason transpires on the field. For instance, the 2011 “Dream Team” in Philadelphia entered the season with the third-highest Super Bowl odds, thanks to a fantasy-filled offseason. They ended up losing four of their first five games and finished a measly 8-8, missing the postseason altogether.

The new season will have plenty of participants vying for the overhyped award as the “next great team”, and honestly, several rosters fit the bill. The Arizona Cardinals made splashes in free agency with DeAndre Hopkins and corrected two needs with Isaiah Simmons and Josh Jones last April.

The New York Jets overpaid for an offensive lineman while adding future franchise pieces in Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims. And let’s not count out the Broncos who found Drew Lock a plethora of options on offense to serve him in his second year.

All three could be overrated, sure. There are reasons to believe the trio could be a play away from going 9-7 or 5-11. But with that, let’s meet the most overrated team coming into the new decade.

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Why could the Carolina Panthers be the most overrated team in 2020?

A new regime

It’s safe to say that few believe the Panthers will be a playoff team this year. In reality, more and more are starting to believe that they will be the most overrated team instead. With the Panthers being apart of a loaded QB-driven division and having gone through a change at the helm, some have questioned what they will be able to accomplish in 2020.

Ron Rivera’s tenure ended on a sour note when he was fired at the midseason mark. General manager Marty Hurney then made a call to the minors, hoisting Baylor coach Matt Rhule into the NFL. The former Bears and Owls head coach had been a staple of fixing broken programs and transforming them into places worthy of notice.

Example A: Rhule took a 4-7 2012 Temple team and transformed them into a back-to-back 10-win roster, including an AAC title during the 2016 season.

Example B: Amid the Art Briles scandal down in Waco, Rhule instigated two winning seasons and a trip to the Big 12 Championship with a New Years Six appearance last January.

The Panthers wanted to start fresh all around, meaning cutting ties with former faces. Cam Newton’s nagging list of injuries sent him packing for hotshot Teddy Bridgewater. The former Vikings signal-caller answered the prayers down in the Bayou when Drew Brees suffered a thumb injury in Week 2. Going 5-0 as the starter, Bridgewater became a staple to the Saints’ offense, tallying 1,384 yards and nine touchdowns in relief.

He was rewarded with a three-year, $63 million contract for his efforts earlier this offseason.

“I’m a winner,” Bridgewater said, according to ESPN’s David Newton. “Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve won, and I take pride in that. That’s the reason I’m in games, to win. I’ll just leave it at that… I’m just going to tell you right now I’m a winner and plan on continuing to be one.”

Rhule also went back to his roots, bringing in XFL standout and former Owls star P.J. Walker as the full-time backup while singing his former wide receiver Robby Anderson. Anderson, who was best known for his speed in the Big Apple, averaged 15 yards per catch over his final two seasons.

With a depleted defense, Hurney and Rhule focused on finding immediate starters last April. Derrick Brown, a bull-rushing defensive tackle, should fill the hole of Vernon Butler and Gerald McCoy. Yetur Gross-Matos, who tallied 18.5 career sacks, will replace Mario Addison opposite of Brian Burns. Jeremy Chinn, a versatile, strong safety should take over for Eric Reid while Notre Dame’s Troy Pride Jr. could be the solution in replacing James Bradberry.

“It’s a unique situation,” Rhule said. “The great thing is that you have a cohort of young guys who are now going to grow in Phil’s (Snow) system.”

New faces, the same factor

Defense wins championships is how the old saying goes. That’s the hope with seven new faces joining the squad in Carolina. However, the progression of a player will take time. And with the season likely starting in August, learning a new system and executing on the fly is easier said than done. 

Unlike Cleveland or Arizona, who overhauled in free agency a year after holding the first overall spot, Carolina took a more minimal approach. During their respective offseasons, Cleveland and Arizona acquired a superstar wideout for their hopeful franchise quarterback. Carolina added Robby Anderson, who has only surpassed the 900-yard marker once. Again, the Cardinals and Browns addressed the offensive line woes during their rebuild, whereas the Panthers traded away their top guy in Trai Turner for an aging Russell Okung.

For a team that finished second in sacks allowed last season, that’s a step backward.

Then there’s the replacement of leadership. Losing the 2015 MVP will likely have a negative impact on the locker room. Additionally, Luke Kuechly elected to call it quits early after dealing with multiple injuries the past several seasons. Thomas Davis was released before the start of the 2019 campaign. And others like Bradberry, Reid, McCoy, Ryan Kalil, Julius Peppers, and Greg Olsen are on new rosters or out of the league.

There’s no denying that Bridgewater is capable of being a starter after the success of his stint in the Super Dome. The question will be how will he gel with his new arsenal? Anderson is in for a wake-up call season as the team’s second option behind Curtis Samuel, who has only tallied 108 career catches in three seasons. D.J. Moore is the other hopeful top target after a 1,000-yard season, but six career touchdowns won’t entice the public’s eyes early. 

Plus, Bridgewater could be going from one of the top offensive lines in the league to the worst next season. Okung brings a veteran presence but has missed 12 games in the past three years. Pressure will be on Taylor Moton and Greg Little to improve, with the latter slowly growing in his first season with the roster. 

Win from within 

Outside the NFC West, the NFC South could be the next juggernaut in the NFL. Now, with the exit of Jameis Winston and the addition of Tom Brady to a division that also features former MVP Matt Ryan and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. 

The Falcons addressed needs on both sides of the ball this offseason, but are still the most significant question marks in the conference. Tampa retained 2019 sack leader Shaquil Barrett while adding players such as Rob Gronkowski, Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield, and Tyler Johnson to correct both sides of the ball. The Saints, who are still in prime contention to make a last-chance grab for the Lombardi, only enhanced their chances with additions like Emmanuel Sanders, Malcolm Jenkins, Cesar Ruiz, and Zack Baun. 

All three teams have quarterbacks who have been known for their winning ways. Bridgewater, although promising, hasn’t started a full 16-game season since 2015 and barely made it to the postseason. And with a shorter offseason, chemistry could be an issue.

Carolina made the moves to stay relevant this offseason, but was it enough? For now, no, not in the slightest, which is why the Carolina Panthers could be classed as overrated in 2020. Sure, a 7-9 season for Rhule in his first year isn’t something to belittle. It’s a new system, a new regime, and everything new takes time to develop. 

The problem is, they’re not a 7-9 win teamor a 6-10 roster either. Too many players will need to flourish fast to contend in a division set for competitive action. Their out of division schedule features Kansas City, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Denver all of whom are viewed as potential playoff rosters.

Rhule’s reign in Queen City might end with them conquering all 32 other franchises. For 2020, raise the white flag and continue to improve. It’s going to be a season of surrender and rebuilding until further notice. 

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson and @PFN365 for all up to date NFL content.

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