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Hey, what were you expecting, Carolina Panthers fans?
Mike Sando of The Athletic pieced together rankings for NFC teams in the upcoming 2021 season from five different NFL executives. And although there’s some intriguing variance, the Panthers settled in at No. 12 amongst the 16 clubs in the conference.
The executives noted some of the positives working for Carolina heading into the campaign, including how they were largely competitive in 2020 despite only having star running back Christian McCaffrey for three games. Eight of their 11 losses in head coach Matt Rhule’s rookie stand came by eight points or fewer.
They also highlighted how the growth of budding presences such as defensive ends Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos, safety Jeremy Chinn and offensive coordinator Joe Brady should only work to their advantage. A beefed up secondary with 2021 first-round pick Jaycee Horn and veteran free-agent signing A.J. Bouye has them looking better on paper as well.
Where the line seems to be drawn, however, is at the quarterback position. One executive believes the addition of Sam Darnold is an improvement, as his strong arm will help maximize standout receiver Robby Anderson. Another, though, wonders if Darnold is even an upgrade from last year’s starter Teddy Bridgewater.
As a result of the differing opinions, the Panthers were ranked as high sixth and as low as 16th. Considering one ranking has them as a playoff squad and the other as the absolute pits of the conference, Carolina is a tough group to pin down in the eyes of quite a few.