This is it.
This is the season the Carolina Panthers finally break free of the doldrums that have plagued the team ever since Jake Delhomme went south of the border in that playoff game against Arizona and everything started falling apart.
The Panthers last made the playoffs in 2008, but I think they will make them again this year. I believe they will go 10-6 in the regular season, which will squeak them into the postseason for only the fifth time in the teams 19-year history.
Why? Simply put, the Panthers finally have the sort of double-edged sword they need. In quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly, they have two players on opposite sides of the ball entering what should be one of the prime years of their career. You could go to a Panthers game, focus on No.1 and No.59, and hardly miss a thing they are essential to almost everything the Panthers do.
I still have questions about the offensive line and defensive secondary, of course, but I think the Panthers will be strong enough at other positions to smooth over those rough edges. I also think that the Gregs tight end Olsen and defensive end Hardy are going to have big years and that kicker Graham Gano is going to win them a game or two.
If Im wrong, its probably over for coach Ron Rivera. It took owner Jerry Richardson six long days at the end of last season to say publicly he was bringing back Rivera, the likable former Chicago linebacker who has gone 13-19 in two seasons at Carolina. General manager Dave Gettleman inherited Rivera, and so he is far less wedded to him than former GM Marty Hurney was.
So Rivera needs to have a winning record to survive this season, but hes holding a good hand. I do want him to take more risks in the final two minutes of games this year I believe it will help that awful 2-12 record his Panther teams have had in games decided by seven or fewer points.
As for my colleague Tom Sorensens prediction of 8-8 for the 2013 Panthers season, it certainly could happen. But lets check the history books in search of who is more likely to be right. Shall we?
In 2011 in this very space, I predicted the Panthers would go 6-10. Tom predicted 3-13. They went 6-10.
In 2012, I predicted the Panthers would go 8-8. Tom predicted 10-6. They went 7-9. Toms traditional outfit of all black once again doubled as his way of mourning the tragic death of his prediction skills.
So given that track record, who are you going to believe? Heres a prediction Panthers fans can not only feel good about but that also comes from a source you can trust. On the tenth anniversary of the Panthers lone Super Bowl team will come a Carolina squad that will excite fans in much the same way, riding No.1 and No.59 into a future filled with promise.
Fowler: 704-358-5140 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler