Tom Sorensen

Can Cam Newton, this Panthers team end a pattern of mediocrity, post winning record?

This is the time of year when we complain that the national media dislikes and disrespects the Carolina Panthers.

Those of us in and around Charlotte know that our Panthers are going to have a big season. They’ve looked good winning three exhibition games, and in the most important of them against New England, they dominated. The Panthers are fast on offense, faster on defense and why isn’t anybody picking them?

Peruse the picks. This is how Sports Illustrated sees the NFC South: Atlanta 12-4; New Orleans 11-5; Carolina 7-9; Tampa Bay 5-11.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, a brave man who on July 23 picked the outcome of every game this season, came up with similar results: Atlanta 12-4; New Orleans 11-5; Carolina 7-9; Tampa Bay 6-10.

ESPN forecast how every NFL team could attain 10 victories, and how many really would. The number of games NFC South teams would win: New Orleans 10.1; Atlanta 9.1; Carolina 7.4; Tampa Bay 7.2.

At 7.4, the Panthers ranked 21st in the NFL, one place behind the Oakland Raiders and one place in front of the Indianapolis Colts.

What about the sports books, where people make their living coming up with a number that will entice fans to bet?

Sports books offer a wager that’s always tempting. You bet the over-under on how many games a team will win. You think a team is better than the number the sports book offers, you bet on the team to exceed it. You think a team is not as good, you bet that it won’t.

At, these are the over-under numbers in the NFC South: Atlanta 9.5; New Orleans 9.5; Carolina 8; Tampa Bay 7.5.

You see Carolina’s exhibitions, and you maybe you see the Panthers in camp, and think, “What is everybody else looking at? What do they see that I don’t?” The more appropriate question is: “What do I see that they don’t?”

Prognostications are based on information and instincts. It’s no secret that since the beginning of time, the Panthers have never had a winning record in back-to-back seasons. The message might be sewn in small thread on their uniforms. Last season they went 11-5.

But there’s another factor. Outsiders rarely like Carolina quarterback Cam Newton as much as you do. Who are the best passers in the NFL? I’d contend Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, Tom Brady of New England and Drew Brees of New Orleans.

They are much more accurate than Newton. You know that. Their passes are less likely to sail over a receiver’s head and more likely to settle into a receiver’s hands. They are much more conventional than Newton.

Newton, however, offers two qualities the others don’t. He has a bigger arm. And he can and will and should move. The idea that Newton shouldn’t run has always been silly. Perhaps, at 29, Newton should run less. But he’s big, and he’s strong, and he can move. That movement, that ability to run, offsets some of the advantages other quarterbacks have.

Also – and this applies to most quarterback leaders – Newton doesn’t complain about blocking. He doesn’t criticize his offensive line. When he gets pounded, he says he needs to do his job better. For a quarterback that accepts the blame, those big men will do anything.

An ESPN panel ranked the NFL’s top 100 players. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, the highest ranked Panther, was No. 16.

Brees of New Orleans was No. 6, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan 21 and Newton 63. Newton was one position behind San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, who became a starter late last season, and one position in front of Atlanta center Alex Mack.

Garappolo has started seven games in his career, two for New England and, last season, five for the 49ers. He’s 7-0. You know how announcers like to say, “All he does is win?” (It’s not true because they also eat and drink and date and raise families and shoot pool and hang out.) But that’s not going to stop the announcers. They can say that all Garappollo does is win at least until Sept. 9, when the 49ers open the season in Minnesota.

Pro Football Focus, an 11-year-old site that applies analytics, and emphasizes the objective and not the subjective, assesses every play that every player plays in every game.

PFF gives Newton a grade of 77.6. If 77.6 were a letter grade, it would be a C. C is average.

I don’t believe that Newton is average. I believe he does things other quarterbacks can’t or won’t. I think his running is invaluable and that this season he has more to work with offensively than he has since he was slinging passes to Steve Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. He has a new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, who might introduce new ways to better negotiate a game.

I also think that New Orleans and Atlanta, and the quarter of the Carolina schedule they claim, are loaded. If the Panthers played in the AFC, I could see them with a pretty record. They don’t.

Unlike the outside agitators, I don’t see the Panthers going 7-9. I don’t see them losing more games than they win.

I made my prediction in this space last week. I have Carolina going 8-8.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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