Every year, without fail, a team comes out of nowhere to win the NFC South.
For a few consecutive years, it was consistently the previous year's last place team that went from worst to first.
Some of the teams not only made the playoffs, but won in the post-season - none more prominently than last year's New Orleans Saints.
Once upon a time the Carolina Panthers were one of those surprise teams, making it all the way to the Super Bowl.
They will not be anywhere close this year.
I can't believe this team won 8 games last year. Why? Look no further than the quarterback position. Jake Delhomme was absolutely abysmal in his final year in Carolina. 8 touchdowns, 18 interceptions. As if the numbers didn't tell the story by themselves, if you saw him play you saw a quarterback who did not look like he belonged in the NFL. Matt Moore didn't necessarily change the Panthers' season with his 1,000 passing yards and 8 touchdowns versus two interceptions - but he did keep them in games and give them a chance, which Delhomme wasn't doing.
As such, the Panthers enter 2010 a little unsettled at quarterback. Will Moore be the guy? Will top draft pick Jimmy Clausen get the job? Whoever takes the reins, though, it can't be any worse than what Delhomme gave them in 2009, which ultimately turned out to be an 8-8 season.
Part of the reason for that many wins is the defense, which ranked eighth in the NFL. The reason I don't expect the Panthers to be as good overall, and particularly on defense this year, though, is because there are a number of personnel changes - none more notable than Julius Peppers, who left via free agency. The word is Peppers wasn't always at the top of his game, which was a frustration for the Panthers, but he was still the team's sack leader (and the franchise's all-time leader in the category). Someone else is going to have to pick up that slack - and how quickly that happens will dictate how good the defense will be this year.
The most talented unit on the Panthers are the running backs, but I don't understand why anyone would play defense against anything but the run against the Panthers. I would say you'd have to force whoever is at quarterback to try to beat you first and foremost (whoever it is will be unproven, and there's very little help at receiver), and contain DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart...because both backs are excellent, and the offensive line is pretty good as well.
The story in 2010 will be just how long it takes for this very young Panthers team to get production from the recent draft picks upon which they will rely so heavily.
My prediction is a last place finish for these Panthers...but in the NFC South, that could always bode extremely well for 2011.
2010 Prediction: 4-12, 4th place in NFC South