“The first thing I care about is winning. The second thing I care about is winning. (The )third thing I care about is winning on and off the field.”
This is what David Tepper said in his first press conference as owner of the Carolina Panthers.
Three years later, the statement remains; and unfortunately, the team that Tepper poured $2.275 billion into has yet to deliver a return on investment. You can chalk these last two seasons up to injuries and being a young team learning how to win. Tepper has been on the NFL block long enough to understand that there is a process involved in building and establishing a consistent contender, and ultimately a Super Bowl team.
But that grace and patience is on the verge of running thin. Tepper wants to see progress in terms of being a consistent, legitimate contender. The progression that should happen this year is a playoff berth.
Why not? They are healthy for the first time in a while. They have some sense of continuity from last year that will carry over to this year. Plus, they were competitive in the games that they lost. Actually, they lost a few games that they could have won.
Offensively, the Panthers left much to be desired last year. Christian McCaffrey was injured for most of the season and they couldn’t find consistency in the running game. Teddy Bridgewater managed more games than he tried to win. CMC is back and if he can average anywhere close to 86.7 yards and 15 touchdowns in his return, the Panthers would have opportunities to win the games that are winnable.
Defensively, the Panthers are looking to build on last season. Granted they were ranked 18th last season, but they boast a retooled secondary this season and Brian Burns is expected to continue his emergence. If the defense can get consistent stops on third down, that will contribute to them winning more often than not.
The Panthers have an opportunity to surprise this season. They have the talent and the will to do it. Playoffs shouldn’t be a pipe dream at this point. It’s an attainable goal. How attainable, however, is up to them.
Projected record: 9-7 wild card berth