Heading into last season, pretty much everyone had the Carolina Panthers ticketed for the Super Bowl. They had the NFC's most exciting offensive player in WR Steve Smith, and its most exciting defensive player in DE Julius Peppers, and the rest of the NFC looked pretty weak, so it seemed like a slam dunk that the Panthers would at least reach the playoffs.
Except they didn't. The offense sputtered all year long, and the defense had too many days where it was OK but not the dominating unit it was expected to be. QB Jake Delhomme's play was the biggest area of concern. Since throwing 29 TDs in 2004, his TD total slid to 24 in 05, and all the way down to 17 last year.
Delhomme's problems could be blamed, at least in part, to injuries that hampered Smith most of the season, and to a very ineffective running game. Neither DeShaun Foster nor D'Angelo Williams gained over 1000 yards last year, despite both averaging over 4 yards per carry. The Panthers didn't think either of those guys could carry a heavy load last year, and the offense suffered for it.
The defense was good, but not great. Peppers was a force, with 13 sacks, but the Panthers didn't really have anybody else who consistently pressured the QB. The run defense was pretty good, ranking 7th in the league in fewest yards per carry. Again, there's nothing really to pick on on the defensive side of the ball, the Panther D's only crime was that it failed to be dominating.
The Panthers think they should have been able to win with the team they fielded last year. For the most part, they backed that up by bringing back the exact same team for 07. There are small nips and tucks here and there. Former Jaguar and Niner Deke Cooper was brought in as a free agent, and likely will start. The Cats allowed MLB Chris Draft to leave via free agency. Draft did a really good job filling in for the injured Dan Morgan last year. Morgan is back now, but whether or not he can stay healthy is a real crapshoot, as he's struggling with concussion issues, which can be career-threatening. If Morgan goes down, the Panthers will move 1st round pick Jon Beason into the starting lineup.
On offense, the Panthers will stick with the Foster/Williams running back tandem that was so uninspiring in 06. Both of them have exciting potential, but neither look like they have the durability to be a #1. The team needs one of them to step up and become a star this year. The passing game should be helped by the addition of 2nd round WR Dwayne Jarrett. The former USC star will fill the #2 wideout role that Keyshawn Johnson was in last year. The problem there might be that Jarrett is so similar to Keyshawn that he may not bring anything to the offense that wasn't already there last year.
The Panthers' window opened and closed really, really fast. They are still a team that should make the playoffs in the suspect NFC, but they are in bad need of an Extreme Makeover of their offense. Now you're up to speed on the Panthers.