Scott Fowler

USA Today does not like Carolina Panthers’ chances this season

The health of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1), who had offseason shoulder surgery, will have a lot to do with how well the Panthers perform in 2017.
The health of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1), who had offseason shoulder surgery, will have a lot to do with how well the Panthers perform in 2017. akormann@charlotteobserver.com

The national newspaper USA Today has picked the Carolina Panthers to finish last in the NFC South during the 2017 season.

The newspaper projects the Atlanta Falcons to win the division again with a 12-4 record and for Tampa Bay (10-6) to also make the playoffs as a wildcard. New Orleans is projected with an 8-8 record and the Panthers are picked to go 7-9.

In 2016, the Panthers did finish last in the division with a 6-10 record after winning the NFC South during each of the three previous years. The USA Today prediction doesn’t have a lot of imagination -- at least for the NFC South -- as it picks the four divisional teams in the exact same order for 2017 as they finished in 2016.

USA Today also projects the New England Patriots to finish with a 16-0 record, four games better than anyone else in the NFL.

The Panthers report to training camp Tuesday in Spartanburg and open the regular season Sept. 10 at San Francisco. USA Today picks the 49ers to go 2-14, worst in the NFC.

Many fans prefer that the Panthers aren’t picked highly in the preseason, as the team has often had its best seasons entering the year with low expectations. Count tennis star John Isner -- a rabid Panthers supporter -- among those who believe low expectations are best. Isner tweeted out “Love this” when he read of the USA Today Panthers prediction online.

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