Ive seen the Carolina Panthers schedule in large bold letters and lighter ones, in our newspaper, online and in magazines. The bold letters scream, the lighter letters suggest, and the schedule looks different every time.
But the result is the same. Carolina wins 10 games and makes the playoffs.
The Panthers will make the playoffs if the offense is among the leagues best and the defense is not one of the leagues worst.
The Panthers offense is a testament to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinksi, who designs plays that look as if they were drawn in the dirt.
If I picked up a 2012 Panthers playbook and opened it at random to a pass route I might see: Cut left at the Ford Excursion, hurdle the fence in Mrs. Calhouns backyard, sidestep the Boston terrier, sprint up the driveway and look for the ball before you get to the kudzu.
The beauty of the offense is that handoffs and short passes work, too. Carolinas collection of running backs as deep as any in the NFL. Starters DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both averaged 5.4 yards a carry last season, a startling number, and theyre joined by fullback-running back-H-back-receiver Mike Tolbert.
In Cam Newton, the Panthers have their first franchise quarterback. Its still strange, their having one. Such players seemed near-mythical. You saw them at Bank of America Stadium when New Orleans came to town.
If Newton works as hard as his teammates say he does theres no reason hell regress in this, his second season.
Carolina will try to replicate the Green Bay-New Orleans model for success and pressure opponents by threatening to score on every offensive drive.
To be effective, the Panthers will have to. Last season their defensive backs were abysmal and pass rushers worse.
It often worked like this: A quarterback would drop back; youd walk to the kitchen or drive down the street and grab a beer. When you returned to the TV the same quarterback would be in the same pocket on the same play.
To get to the playoffs the Panthers have to get to the quarterback.
The defense unquestionably will be more disruptive. Last season linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis were injured and Luke Kuechly was playing for Boston College.
Kuechly, a rookie, has been outstanding. He reminds me of former Panthers middle linebacker Dan Morgan. When Morgan was healthy he was fast and instinctive, and he played as hard as anybody on the team ever has.
Not sure when Beason will come all the way back from the tear of his left Achilles tendon. To be effective, he doesnt have to attain full speed right away. Hes a leader, as is Davis. Their presence on the field and in the locker room will be enormous.
So many fans and prognosticators are picking the Panthers to do well that I feel as if Im on a bandwagon. I hate bandwagons and can prove it. I have never owned an SUV.
I know I could attract more attention by predicting a record of, say, 8-8. But if I did Id be writing simply to be noticed the way some unnamed writers do.
Scott Fowler probably will invoke the predictions we made last season. I cant remember mine, which usually means I did poorly.
But last season was a rebuilding year, unless I did well, in which case it wasnt.
The Panthers no longer are rebuilding. They have what they require, and anything short of the playoffs is a wasted season.