The Panthers were strong out of the gates last season, winning four of their first six games, and fairly stout at the end (winning two out of their last three), but they could not overcome losing five out of six in the middle portion of their schedule. Things could not have gone worse for the team as they averaged just 14.5 points per game through that losing stretch. If John Fox is to remove himself from the hot seat, his club will have to avoid that kind of collapse in 2008.
Things turned sour for the Panther offense when Quarterback Jake Delhomme's season ended in week three. The team was 2-1 in the games that Delhomme started and they averaged 25 points per game in that stint. The team averaged just 14.3 points per game in the remaining 13 games. David Carr proved to be horribly ineffective at the helm and never gelled with star receiver Steve Smith. Vinnie Testaverde showed flashes of his old brillance in spelling Carr, but he was not that consistent either.
If Delhomme can return healthy from elbow surgery, the team should be able to rectify many of last season's offensive woes. Smith is still one the league's best playmakers at receiver and he will have his old running mate Mushin Muhammed back this year. The team also signed former Seahawk wide out D.J. Hackett and they drafted Oregon stalwart Jonathan Stewart to take over at tailback for the departed DeShaun Foster. The offensive line did lose center Justin Hartwig, but they picked up Pitt tackle Jeff Otah with one of their two first round selections in this year's draft.
Defensively the Panthers should be a sound unit in 2008. Last year, while they played reasonably well, they did not dominate offenses like they have in the recent past. They proved to be a little bit long in the tooth as they produced just 23 sacks and allowed 110.7 yards rushing per game. Two major contributors to past defensive greatness, DE Mike Rucker and LB Dan Morgan, called it quits in the off season, opening the door for some spirited competiton.
This year's group will be a little younger but they do have talent. The secondary and linebacking corps are particulary stocked and both units should be improved this year. The big question marks are with the defensive line. If Julius Peppers can bounce back from a horrific 2.5 sack season then the Panthers should be adequate up front too.
Prediction: 3rd Place NFC South.