We continue our “Scouting the Enemy” series with a look at the Atlanta Falcons’ division rival, the Carolina Panthers.
Any time the Falcons and Panthers get it on we witness an entertaining game. The 38-0 blowout last year wasn’t much fun for Dan Quinn’s team, but he would have taken a lot of satisfaction in ending the Panthers’ unbeaten run two weeks later.
Carolina is looking to win a fourth consecutive NFC South title, and they are without doubt the team to beat in the division. Can the Falcons score a victory over the NFC Champions this year, and can the Panthers back up their 15-1 season with another trip to the Super Bowl?
I spoke with Kenan Goyette, editor of Cat Crave, FanSided’s home of the Carolina Panthers. We spoke about the Panthers’ offseason so far and the state of the NFC South.
FB: What have you made of the Panthers offseason? What have they done well, not so well?
KG: This 2016 offseason has seen a mix of good and bad for the Panthers. The “good” has frankly been great. They were able to cut and then re-sign Charles Johnson who will hopefully return to his healthy productive self and for the most part have done an excellent job retaining many of the key pieces that made them so successful in 2015. They re-signed players like Mike Tolbert, Ryan Kalil and Michael Oher and, although time has yet to tell, they once again appear to have a solid draft class headlined by first round pick Vernon Butler.
On the “bad” side is one glaring incident, well known around the league. The rescinding of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman’s franchise tag was certainly a hit the Panthers felt was necessary to take. His absence will undoubtedly weaken the secondary and even with the addition of three rookie corners via the draft, Carolina will likely deal with some growing pains until they step up or someone like Bene Benwikere makes people forget about Norman.
FB: How can the Panthers build on what was such a successful season?
KG: Ever since the Panthers’ crushing defeat in Super Bowl 50 all of the talk has been about how tough it is to repeat and just how difficult it will be to try and replicate such a magical season. And while the likelihood of going 15-1 in the regular season is quite low, Carolina has a lot to be excited about this season and for years to come.
They have a phenomenal core locked up with players like Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly – two of the best at their respective positions – and the front office has built an extremely solid and young supporting cast around them to not only compete now but also in the future.
FB: How do you see a competitive NFC South shaking out this year?
KG: While the rest of the division has certainly done its part to remain competitive and build rosters to challenge Carolina, it’s tough to see any of the other three teams putting together a season capable of taking the crown from the Panthers.
The Falcons looked promising early on but couldn’t maintain and did a complete 180. The Saints have been on the decline for years and don’t look much improved. And the Buccaneers, although young and talented, still look to be a few years away from real contention. The Panthers roster is built for sustained success and it would be a surprise to see them relinquish their NFC South title in 2016.
FB: What are the key storylines to follow entering training camp?
KG: As mentioned early, the situation at cornerback is going to be the biggest storyline for Carolina heading into camp. The two veterans, Bene Benwikere and Robert McClain, look like locks to start on the outside but that still leave the nickelback spot open for a rookie or the newly signed Leonard Johnson to fill.
Another storyline that’s gone somewhat under the radar outside of Panthers news is the improvement of second-year wideout Devin Funchess. Reports from OTAs and practices have said that Funchess is “lightyears” ahead of where he was last year and looks to be primed to lock up the number two spot next to Kelvin Benjamin and contribute right away.
FB: What are realistic expectations for the Panthers this year?
KG: With only one real loss and a slew of solid depth additions, it’s hard to see the Panthers falling too far from where they ended last season. Obviously 15-1 will be tough to replicate but with the schedule they have and the roster full of young, improving players, a 12-4 or even 13-3 season doesn’t seem out of reach for Carolina.
Coming off a Super Bowl loss is tough but this Panthers team seems ready to rebound and come back strong as the NFC’s top team. Optimism is high in Panthers camp and there doesn’t look to be any reason for it not to be.
We’d like to thank Kenan Goyette for taking the time to talk to us. Be sure to check out Cat Crave for great coverage of the Carolina Panthers.