The Carolina Panthers have certainly taken their fans on a rollercoaster in the last year. They fired their head coach, traded their best player, flirted with a division title, and traded for the No. 1 pick in the draft to give new head coach Frank Reich a fresh start with a young talent.
But how good can things possibly be in Year 1 even with a favorable schedule in one of the weakest divisions? The top sportsbooks are giving the Panthers over/under 7.5 wins. It may be a little ambitious for a team that has had a losing season in 6-of-7 years coming into 2023.
We look back at the wild ride this team went on up until the big moves they made for a brighter future.
The Changes That Matter
No better way to start over than bringing in a new coach and quarterback together. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady joined the Patriots in 2000. Sean Payton and Drew Brees joined the Saints in 2006. Even Cam Newton and Ron Rivera started together in 2011 with Carolina.
But these Panthers are not giving Bryce Young as many weapons as the Panthers gave Cam in 2011 when he was Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, Young may have a better defense and an easier division to win.
Second Chance for Reich
Regardless of what you think of Frank Reich’s Indianapolis tenure that saw him go 40-33-1 (.547) and 1-2 in the playoffs, there is no denying the Colts gave him a tough job by having to start a new quarterback every season. Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement was a personal decision neither Reich nor the organization could have expected, but it has been a revolving door at the most important position for a franchise that was built by legendary field generals like Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning.
With the draft selection of Young, Reich finally gets a young quarterback to develop from Day 1. Some of the best head coaching jobs in this league have been by coaches who were retreads, getting a 2nd shot somewhere else.
Think of Bill Belichick putting his Cleveland past behind him when he took the New England job. Andy Reid did very well in Philadelphia, but he has put himself in elite company with what he’s done in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes.
That is not to say Reich will do that well in Carolina, but he has a good offensive mind and we have never been able to see him with the same quarterback in multiple seasons as a head coach.
He should certainly be an upgrade over Matt Rhule.
Was Bryce Young the Right Move?
It was a bold move to trade up from No. 9 with Chicago to get the No. 1 pick to take Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. The Panthers gave up 3 extra draft picks and No. 1 wide receiver D.J. Moore to make the blockbuster move.
This means Carolina has traded away its best running back (McCaffrey) and wideout in the last year. That is not great news for Young, but he will not be without talent.
- The Panthers added running back Miles Sanders, who had a career year for the Eagles.
- Adam Thielen comes over from the Vikings and should be a reliable slot target and someone Young can improvise with.
- Wide receiver DJ Chark has been slowed by injury in recent years, but he has some big-play potential in him.
- Rookie Jonathan Mingo was drafted in the 2nd round and should start, though he will have a lot to prove after just 1,758 receiving yards in 41 games at Mississippi.
- Tight end Hayden Hurst, a former 1st-round pick, comes over from the Bengals.
This is a mixed salad of an offense, but obviously the Panthers have big hopes for this draft class. The bigger concern may be the offensive line, which is already inexperienced on the left side and is planning to start 4th-round rookie Chandler Zavala at right guard.
As for Young, it was a logical pick. He is certainly more polished of a passer than Anthony Richardson. His pocket presence and ability to improvise should serve him well in the NFL, and that is the area that should make him a better pick than C.J. Stroud. But only time will tell on this one.
Young did not light it up in the preseason, and he took a sack in each game, so that is something to keep an eye on this year. But Reich is a smart offensive coach, and he should be able to adapt this offense to Young’s strengths.
Then again, we said the same thing about Matt Ryan in Indianapolis last year, and the season ended with them both out of a job. But for now, the Young trade is a very defensible move.
A Respectable Defense
New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero inherits a solid unit that he can work with. He did a very good job in Denver last year where he had a talented secondary and had to work around a diminished pass rush after Bradley Chubb was traded to Miami.
The Panthers have more pass rush with Brian Burns making his 2nd Pro Bowl in a row after a career-high 12.5 sacks. He could have more help this year after the team added veteran Justin Houston, who is still at it after he had 9.5 sacks for the Ravens last year. Shaq Thompson and Derrick Brown are still in town to round out a nice front 7.
Evero is going to see a drop in quality in the secondary coming from Denver, but at least this is a veteran group with Jaycee Horn, Jeremy Chinn, Xavier Woods, and Donte Jackson. Safety Vonn Bell comes over from Cincinnati to be a new starter.
This secondary will likely not hold up against good passing teams, but when you check the schedule for the 2023 Panthers, there may not be many of those.
2023 Schedule Analysis and Pick
Except for Tampa Bay playing a 1st-place schedule, the other NFC South teams get an incredible opportunity with a schedule that features the AFC South and NFC North, potentially weak divisions that may not have an 11-win team this year.
How advantageous is the schedule? Dak Prescott (Cowboys – Week 11), Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins – Week 6), and Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars – Week 17) could be the 3 best quarterbacks the Panthers face this year.
The schedule is nice, but we have to remember this is a rookie quarterback behind a shaky offensive line with a coach who was just fired for running one of the worst offenses in the league last year.
While the Panthers are not a traditional No. 1 draft pick team because of the trade, the fact is Andrew Luck is the only quarterback drafted No. 1 overall to win more than 7.5 games in his rookie season. That means 25 of 26 quarterbacks drafted No. 1 in the Super Bowl era had under 7.5 wins in Year 1.
Be Cautious With Your 2023 Expectations
Reich and Young are a very defensible pairing that could lead to a bright future in Carolina, but take the under 7.5 wins in 2023 for your NFL picks. Let them go through their growing pains first, and that is not a dig at Young’s height, which hopefully will not be part of the team’s story this year.
Also, how about winning a game after trailing in the 4th quarter again? 2018 was an eternity ago.
NFL Pick: 2023 Carolina Panthers Under 7½ Wins -150 at BetOnline
2022 Recap: Never Followed the Rhule
The Panthers were a frustrating team under head coach Matt Rhule because you could basically predict the outcome of their games after a single quarter. The defense had to be almost perfect as Rhule’s Panthers were 1-27 when allowing at least 17 points. Rhule was 2-25 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime, which is a ridiculous standard to have.
Finally, Rhule’s teams were 0-16 at game-winning drive opportunities in the 4th quarter or overtime. This was an issue under Ron Rivera and Cam Newton too, but it was especially bad during Rhule’s time in Carolina.
Adding Baker Mayfield did not help matters last year. The Panthers lost a few close games early in typical Rhule fashion, then were battered 37-15 by the 49ers in Week 5. That was enough for Carolina. Rhule was fired and replaced by interim coach Steve Wilks, who helped the team finish 6-6.
The Panthers benched Mayfield and eventually released him, giving way to P.J. Walker, who engineered an upset win over Tampa Bay, and later Sam Darnold, who played better than Mayfield.
An Unpredictable Running Game
But one of the stranger developments for Carolina was how the running game improved after trading star running back Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers. The Panthers replaced him with the downhill running of D’Onta Foreman, who had some stellar games for the team down the stretch to stay within reach of a division title.
However, this was far from a consistent rushing attack. The Panthers had a stretch where they rushed for 232 yards in a win over Atlanta, then were held to 36 yards in a 13-3 loss to the Ravens. Then after rushing for 223 yards in Seattle, the Panthers came back home and rushed for 21 yards against the Steelers, the game where the defense allowed Mitch Trubisky to engineer a 12-minute touchdown drive.
Then from 21 yards, the Panthers shocked the Lions by rushing for 320 yards in a 37-23 upset win. That set up the Week 17 division title showdown with the Buccaneers in Tampa. Even though the Panthers led in the 4th quarter, Tom Brady had one final vintage performance in him.
Looking to End 4th Quarter Woes
After falling behind, the Panthers were in an unenviable position with Darnold having to lead a go-ahead drive from deep in his own end. He quickly fumbled the ball, setting up a short field for another Tampa Bay score in a 30-24 loss. The Buccaneers won the division, eliminating the Panthers who got to 7-10 with an ugly 10-7 win in New Orleans.
But that loss in Tampa marked the 50th-straight game where the Panthers lost when trailing in the 4th quarter. That includes an 0-29 record in games where the Panthers had the ball late with a 1-score deficit.
This incredibly bad streak dates back to the 2018 season. It should come to an end this year, but the Panthers are moving forward with a rookie quarterback who may not have the best weapons or offensive line in Year 1.
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