Going into the 2021 NFL season, the world was under the impression the “TOMpa Bay Bucs” were going to have a cake walk winning their division, as Drew Brees retired, and they had virtually their entire super bowl championship roster returning for a repeat campaign. Not so fast. Unexpectedly, once we are headed into week 4, it is very possible for the 3 – 0 Panthers, that’s right, CAROLINA PANTHERS, to be in first place in the division and possibly be contending to finish on top. Wait what?! Panthers fans need to fall back this is just a fool’s gold pipe dream right?
Yikes! McCaffrey is out with an injured hamstring and over the course of the next 3 weeks, they’ll have to face a little bit stiffer competition than the Texans and the Jets. Panthers fans need not push the panic button however. Outside of McCaffrey, the rest of the team has been playing very well. Head Coach Matt Rhule has his offense movin’ and groovin’, and his Defensive Coordinator, Phil Snow, has been calling great games and has the guys executing the system. The offensive line has been sufficient, Darnold has been great, pass catchers have been doing their job, and we’ve already mentioned how sound and stingy Snow’s unconventional defense has been.
Now that Darnold has had that off season surgery of removing the paralyzing, 180 pound tumor AKA Adam Gase from his back, he has really been showcasing the potential everyone was waiting to see coming out of USC. Thursday night they beat the horrid Houston Texans handily, but unfortunately, as previously mentioned, star running back Christian McCaffrey went down with a hamstring injury, which will leave him sidelined for a few weeks. So everything’s fine because Darnold can still just hand it off to Chuba Hubbard instead! Wait Bubba Wubba who????
In all seriousness though, I do believe it will be fine. Of course you cannot just seamlessly replace the dynamic explosiveness of a CMC, but I do not see Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady making major changes to the offense or the game plan. Standing at 6 foot 207 pounds, the Canadian native attended Oklahoma State from 2017 to 2020. During his time there he was able to earn Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2019. That year he ran for 2094 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also added 23 catches for 198 yards. He ran a 4.3 40, has good change of direction, has pass catching ability, and reads run blocking, angles, and linebackers proficiently. He was drafted 126th overall in the 2021 draft, and should be serviceable at the least as he is the next man up for the following few weeks. Do I expect the Panthers to be 6 or 7-0 when CMC comes back? No not necessarily, but it won’t be because of a detrimental void of sufficiency from the backfield.
So considering that the Panthers were regarded to be a sub 500 team, I’d say they have surprised people and showed out. If the panthers are still rolling when CMC comes back, or when they are still in contention for winning the division, do not be surprised because GM Scott Fitterer has done a great job and his team’s 3 – 0 start is well deserved. Have they become a front-runner or powerhouse of the NFC? No absolutely not. I am not implying that at all. They will need to win some statement games against some more formidable teams. The Panthers have a fairly favorable schedule moving forward. This Sunday the Bucs face another NFC powerhouse in the LA Rams. Not highly probable the Panthers will be able to keep pace with the Bucs’ win rate, but if Tampa drops one to the Rams this weekend it will certainly help. The final 2 out of 3 games of the season the Panthers face-off against “TOMpa” head to head. After three games, go ahead Panther fans enjoy the optimism and excitement, because it very well may end up NOT being a pipe dream!