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2006 Carolina Panthers Preview

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Picks

Is it ever any fun when people expect things from you? Like a ride. Or some money. Or for you not to sleep with your girlfriend's sister. It can be a pain in the ass. But in sports, expectations are the worst. They can mean only one thing: there's nowhere to go but down.

That's not just the plight of the 2006 Carolina Panthers, but also the situation facing anyone looking to gain some green betting on the Panthers. Five of the six major preseason football magazines picked Carolina to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, and half of them selected the Panthers to win.

But it's not that easy. It's never that easy. This is the NFL. You don't just show up and put teams down like diseased animals. Carolina faces a daunting schedule and, as the preseason favorites, will face the best effort of every team that they square off with. Their division is strong, with Atlanta and Tampa Bay ready for a cockfight, and the Panthers will face each club in the rough-and-ready NFC East.

Carolina has been a finicky team over the past three seasons. They've been streaky and relatively unpredictable. For instance, in their Super Bowl year of 2003 they posted two winning streaks of over five games and one three-game losing streak. In 2004 they followed a six-game slide with a five-game surge. Finally, last year they again ran off six consecutive wins, but also saw half of their losses come at the hands of non-playoff teams.

Which team will we see in '06? Who knows. But with the talent and tools in that locker room I can't help but jump on the bandwagon.

Here's Doc's 2006 Carolina Panthers Preview

  • 2005 Record: 13-6 (5-3 home, 8-3 road)
  • 2005 Rankings: 22nd offense (17th pass, 19th run); 3rd defense (9th pass, 4th run)
  • 2005 Against the Spread: 11-8 (3-5 home, 8-3 road); 10-9 vs. total (4-5 h, 6-5 r)
  • 2006 Odds: 10/1 to win SB, 5/1 to win NFC, 1/2 to win NFC South, 10 wins O/U
  • 2006 Strength of Schedule: 17th (.506 opp. win %)
  • Key stats: Over the past three seasons, Carolina is 14-3 ATS as a visiting underdog. They are 19-4 ATS in their last 23 road games and 26-11 in four years as visitors under John Fox.

Returning starters: 19 (10 offense, 9 defense)

Key acquisitions: Keyshawn Johnson, WR (from Dallas); Maake Kemoeatu, DT (from Balt.); Reggie Howard, CB (from Jax); Shaun Williams, S (from NYG); Na'il Diggs, LB (from G.B.); Keith Adams, LB (from Philly); Damione Lewis, DT (from STL); DeAngelo Williams, RB (draft).

Key departures: Will Witherspoon, LB; Ricky Manning, CB; Brentson Buckner, DT; Stephen Davis, RB; Marlon McCree, S; Ricky Proehl, WR; Brandon Short, LB; Tutan Reyes, G; Rod Smart, KR.

Offense: If the Panthers are going to make a Super Bowl run the rushing offense has to get better. It's that simple. Second-and-goal from the four-yard line can't be an automatic passing down. Carolina averaged a pathetic 3.4 yards per carry last season, and their 28.1 attempts per game ranked just 28th. The offensive line remains intact, and the addition of Johnson is a boon to the pass attack because it lets Keary Colbert (or Drew Carter) settle into the slot. Delhomme is a bulldog, and has the moxie to lead them to another Super Sunday. Steve Smith's health is critical.

Defense: The addition of Kemoeatu was huge. Literally and figuratively. The 6-feet-5, 350-pound defensive tackle is an ample replacement for Buckner. Throw in Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins (if he's healthy) and Mike Rucker and your talking about a defensive line better than the one the Panthers rode to the Super Bowl because the players are in their primes. The secondary is exceptional, adding Howard to a unit that finished fifth in interceptions (23) last year.

X-factor: The linebackers. They'll miss Witherspoon. Dan Morgan can't stay healthy and Thomas Davis is still a tweener. They have depth with some solid LB's but they don't have championship-caliber playmakers.

Outlook: I won't be surprised if Carolina does or doesn't make the Super Bowl. They finished 2005 on a 10-5 ATS run, and I will be surprised if that happens again. Oddsmakers will be shading the lines to play against the public's lofty perspective of them, so the key will be to find spots when Carolina is overvalued at home.

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