So Las Vegas has an over/under win total of 7.5 games for the Carolina Panthers in 2012.
Predicting the win total for an NFL team before the season begins is about as difficult, dangerous, and irresponsible as Eddie Griffin driving a Ferrari Enzo ("Brotha can't drive!"). For example, raise your hand if you had the San Francisco 49ers going 13-3 and nearly advancing to the Super Bowl last year?
But as a Panthers fan I still carry the scars of the 2-14 2010 season. We know as well as any fan base that when things go bad in the NFL, they can go really bad.
With the expectations surrounding the promising 2012 Carolina Panthers, really bad would be a 5-11 record. While I hope none of these things actually happen, here are the five disasters that could result in the Panthers winning just five games:
Disaster #1 - A Healthy Defense…That Still Stinks
The Panthers defense was one of the NFL's worst in 2011, giving up 26.8 points per game (27th overall) as Carolina finished 6-10. But there were a lot of "buts" regarding last year's defensive unit, with injuries being the biggest reason - Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Ron Edwards, Terrell McClain, Sione Fua, etc.
Heading into the 2012 season, the Panthers defensive unit appears to be healthy. But - and here is what terrifies me as a Panthers fan - what if the defense is healthy but still stinks?
After all, Ron Edwards has been average, at best, in his career. McClain and Fua struggled before their injuries in 2011. Thomas Davis is coming off his third knee surgery and time will only tell how effective he can be. The secondary may be relying heavily on untested Brandon Hogan at corner and shaky Sherrod Martin at safety.
Rookie Luke Keuchly is projected to make an immediate impact at linebacker, but if Edwards, McClain, Davis, Hogan, and Martin continue to struggle (essentially half of the defensive unit), even a healthy Panthers defense could still be porous enough to drop Carolina to 5-11 in 2012.
Disaster #2 - Cam Newton Gets Figured Out
Remember when the Wildcat befuddled defensive coordinators? Well, that was fun. Remember how post-prison Michael Vick thoroughly destroyed befuddled defensive coordinators for a few weeks? It happened, it's true.
But then it stopped.
Defensive coordinators adjust. It always happens in the NFL. Cam Newton is not going to surprise anybody in 2012.
Cam Newton should still be solid this year, but what if he declines just a little bit? What if smart defensive coordinators start eliminating his running lanes, especially inside the 10 yard line? What if adjustments are made to how Steve Smith is covered? What if Jonathan Stewart is taken away as a dump-off receiving option out of the backfield?
5-11 happens, that's what.
Disaster #3 - Strength of Schedule
Strength of schedule is always hard to predict, but the Panthers appear to have a tough road ahead.
Outside of home games against Tampa Bay and Seattle, there are very few "easy" wins on the Panthers schedule.
Carolina could realistically repeat their 2-4 NFC South performance from 2011. The Falcons and Saints are always capable of winning 10-plus games. Last year Carolina won both of its games against Tampa Bay, so even one loss to the Bucs in 2012 could be devastating.
The Panthers games against the NFC East and AFC West should also be challenging. The Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles are always tough and the Redskins could be much better with Robert Griffin III under center. The AFC West features Peyton Manning, Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, and an always dangerous Chargers offense.
Throw in a road game against the Bears and a home game against the Seahawks and there are not a lot of easy wins on the Panthers schedule in 2012.
All it would take is a missed field goal here and a botched coverage there and an otherwise 8-8 Panthers team could finish 5-11 against a tough regular season schedule.
Disaster #4 - Special Teams
The Panthers had some of the worst special teams in the league in 2011. Consider this:
-Carolina's punt return game finished 30th with a measly 5.5 yards per return average.
-The Panthers were 25th in kicking accuracy, making just 78.6% of their field goal attempts, including 6-9 from between 30-39 yards and finishing as one of only three teams to not make a field goal from beyond 50 yards.
-Carolina's punting game was 27th in the NFL at 42.7 yards per punt.
The Panthers invested a fourth round draft pick in Joe Adams to improve the punt return game. The team released long-time punter Jason Baker who is being replaced with sixth round pick Brad Nortman. Carolina also signed former CFL kicker Justin Medlock to compete with Olindo Mare, who was a huge disappointment after being signed as a free agent in 2011.
Three of the Panthers most important special teamers could end up being two rookies (Adams and Nortman) and a former CFLer (Medlock).
A botched special teams play or two and wins turn to losses. It happened to the Panthers in 2011 and a repeat in 2012 could doom the team to 5-11.
Disaster #5 - Cam Newton Gets Hurt
Derek Anderson? Jimmy Clauson? Nooooooo!!!!!
Las Vegas is predicting around seven or eight wins for the Panthers in 2012. Unless disaster strikes as outlined above, I think the team will definitely be strong enough to win at least that many games.
As Panthers fans lets just hope disaster does not strike this year.
Anybody have some wood to knock on?
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Panthers fan. For more from this author, visit Andrew's archive or check these out articles: