Today, The Cycle returns with a new wrinkle for the upcoming football season. Since we are a month away from the opener between the Packers and the Saints, I decided to go with a team-by-team preview, as opposed to the usually conference ones I do the week the season begins. I figure it gives a better look at every team than I normally give. The order of the teams selected will be based on last year's draft order, and we begin with the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina comes into this season with a whole lot of changes. No longer is John Fox the head coach. No longer are the Panthers cutting costs. The Panthers have brought in Ron Rivera to coach, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to play TE and took Cam Newton with the 1st pick in the NFL Draft. They also resigned DeAngelo Williams, DE Charles Johnson and LB Jon Beason. From last year's 2-14 team, I'd say they are improved.
How improved? Well it will be determined on how Newton develops. He has a lot of weapons in Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith, Olsen and Shockey. Williams and Stewart will take pressure off him, buoyed by a healthy Jeff Otah. The Panthers have during the Fox era been strong on defense, and that won't change under a defensive-minded coach in Rivera. Are the playoffs on the horizon? Might be asking a lot in this division with all three other teams expecting playoffs, but I'm willing to put them down for 6 wins and a whole lot of sleeper buzz in 2012.