Buccaneers on top, but the Panthers could be close behind
At first glance, the notion that Carolina could emerge as the second-best team in the NFC South seems laughable, but that team is not far off from garnering some attention.
Sam Darnold is by far the biggest question mark. Much like Winston, the last football that he played doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence that he will be rock solid in a starting role with a new team, and to be fair, Winston at least threw for 5,000 yards.
On the other hand, Darnold is a step above Teddy Bridgewater. Again, like Winston, Darnold’s lack of success was in part to being on a terrible team, so a change of scenery was good for everyone involved. Darnold just lucked out in finding a team that was a perfect fit.
Carolina currently doesn’t have any glaring holes. The team was better than its 2020 record indicated, and it accomplished all of that with mediocre quarterback play and without its best offensive player.
Darnold joins an offense that is built around Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and former teammate Robby Anderson. The Panthers could probably afford to find one more veteran name to mix in with that group, but it is undoubtedly a step up over what Darnold has seen in New York, especially from a coaching standpoint.
In addition to a great offense, the Panthers also have a growing defense that has talent at every level. Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn are an excellent young duo to build a secondary around, Derrick Brown and Brian Burns are stellar young names on the line, and there is plenty of depth to back up the top talent.
The Panthers still need some time to build chemistry, but they are probably going to surprise people this season when they look like a playoff contender. The Saints will probably be a thorn in the side of the champs as per usual, but the Panthers should start to gain traction as the much scarier team by the end of the year.
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