The performance of the Carolina Panthers ultimately comes down to Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP. When he won MVP, accounting for 45 total touchdowns and over 4,00 yards from scrimmage, his team went 15-1, steamrolling their way to a Super Bowl, where they lost in a defensive bout against the Denver Broncos.
In both 2016 and 2017, Cam Newton’s play level dropped. He threw a combined 41 touchdowns to 30 interceptions, completing just above half of his passes. His record, in that time, was 17-13, and he missed the playoffs in 2016.
When Cam Newton is peak Cam Newton, he can lead the Panthers anywhere. His talents are undeniable. But when he’s scattershot Cam Newton, a quarterback that, as a thrower, struggles with consistency and accuracy, he’s hard to bank on.
Yes, Newton hasn’t ever had a supporting cast that matches his natural talents, and first-round wide receiver D.J. Moore will help with that. But aside from Moore, the Panthers’ offense is still very much a project. Devin Funchess is the only other wide receiver worth mentioning. Curtis Samuel fell off the map last year after being drafted in Round 2. Torrey Smith has always been a one-trick pony who has inconsistent hands. Even the team’s most reliable receiving threat, Greg Olsen, is facing uncertainty. At 33 years old, he isn’t guaranteed to uphold his current level of play. That’s what the Panthers drafted Ian Thomas for. But if Olsen ends up regressing, Newton instantly loses a valuable safety blanket.
Like any team, the Panthers can be good if they reach their full potential. Their defensive front, equipped with Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and Vernon Butler, is impressively deep, and players like Luke Kuechly and Julius Peppers will help keep the Panthers above their floor. For all the talent this team holds, how well they perform will ultimately come down to Cam Newton. And if we get the same Cam Newton we have for the past two years, then 7-9 seems like a fair bet.