Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Carolina Panthers will be interesting, not special and .... 8-8

Look for the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton to go 8-8 this season, Tom Sorensen writes.
Look for the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton to go 8-8 this season, Tom Sorensen writes. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

I’ve heard that the Carolina Panthers will go 13-3. I’ve read that the Panthers will go 3-13.

I can’t imagine they’ll be as successful as the former or as miserable as the latter.

General manager Marty Hurney did a good job filling Carolina’s obvious holes. It was as if teeth were missing, and they’ve all been replaced. Also, the Panthers won the Gerald McCoy sweepstakes, an unexpected victory.

Last season, the pass rush was occasional and, until the head coach took over, predictable. This season, the defensive line appears fast and deep.

Coach Ron Rivera emphasized when we talked last week how strongly he believes in backup quarterback Kyle Allen. I asked about Allen once. Rivera praised him three times. If starter Cam Newton gets hurt, Rivera will be comfortable entrusting the offense to the second-year quarterback.

Be interesting to see who Newton is. Last season, he was a player we had never seen. Working in the offense of first-year coordinator Norv Turner, Newton quickly went through his reads and quickly released the ball to targets short and intermediate.

Some of you were mesmerized by that offense, and after the Panthers won six of their first eight games, thinking about world domination.

I never saw it. I thought Carolina was limited. Despite the acquisitions, I still do.

Yes, Newton has targets. The group that impressed me most at camp was the receivers. It seemed as if on every play several guys 5-foot-9 to 5-11 who run a 4.3 to 4.5 40 took off as if on the starting blocks that sprinters use. Routes were true and hands were good, so let the pass-fest begin.

But will Newton consistently find them? He’s an elite quarterback only if you change the definition of elite. He’s not top five. He might be at the bottom of the top 10, which is still pretty good.

But do you trust his shoulder? The guy plays with pain, no question. And he will run, no question. It’s part of who he is, and adds a dimension that compensates for some of the high throws and inconsistencies. Health is an issue.

I don’t trust Carolina’s offensive line, especially the interior. We saw it knocked around in exhibitions and in the first joint practice with the Buffalo Bills.

Also, the Panthers have been sentenced to the NFC South, which is one of several divisions – the AFC North, the NFC North, and the NFC West are others – that appear loaded.

Last season, I predicted that the Panthers would go 8-8, and was a game off. They were 7-9.

After considerable research, thought and latte, I keep coming back to that number. I don’t see a special team. I don’t see a playoff team. I see an interesting team that goes 8-8.

Here’s how they’ll finish

If you go online, you can find numerous sports sites that offer NFL predictions. Predicting the outcome of games is easy to do, but difficult to do well. If you have a feel for the writer, or the computer program the writer uses, you know whether to trust him or her.

Computer projections are predicated on the details the writer feeds the computer. Which objective qualities are emphasized: total offense, turnovers or red-zone efficiency? Or are subjective details such as supposed strength of the offensive and defensive lines incorporated?

Hit on the right analytics, and you’re golden, or ought to be.

I’d love to apply the nutmbers in which I believe, develop a methodology and feed the numbers into a computer. But I come from a different time. On my desk is one laptop, three legal-sized pads, a spiral notebook, a dry-erase board, eight dry-erase markers, four of which work, 12 pens and, above it all, a print of a bluesman playing his guitar at Blue Chicago.

I think I can come up with statistical categories that portend success and failure. But I also believe in instincts.

I’ll brag a little. At this time a year ago I picked the New Orleans Saints to beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

Had the Saints not suffered a horrendous no-call, and the inability to recover from it, they would have played the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I like to think that they would have won.

This is how the season will go, and who will advance.

AFC EAST

New England 12-4

Buffalo 8-8

New York Jets 6-10

Miami 2-14

AFC NORTH

Cleveland 10-6

Pittsburgh 10-6

Baltimore 9-7

Cincinnati 3-13

AFC SOUTH

Houston 9-7

Indianapolis 9-7

Tennessee 7-9

Jacksonville 5-11

AFC WEST

Kansas City 13-3

Los Angeles Chargers 10-6

Denver 6-10

Oakland 5-11

NFC EAST

Philadelphia 11-5

Dallas 10-6

New York Giants 4-12

Washington 3-13

NFC CENTRAL

Minnesota 11-5

Green Bay 10-6

Chicago 9-7

Detroit 4-12

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans 12-4

Atlanta 10-6

Carolina 8-8

Tampa Bay 5-11

NFC WEST

Los Angeles Rams 11-5

San Francisco 10-6

Seattle 10-6

Arizona 4-12

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Kansas City 33, New England 28

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

New Orleans 31, Philadelphia 29

SUPER BOWL LIV (in Miami Gardens, Fla.):

New Orleans 34, Kansas City 31

Less than daring, true, and I almost picked Philadelphia. But New Orleans is due.

Opening-week picks

You know the drill. Every week of every season I pick the winner of every NFL game, and add a Lock, which is a team almost practically guaranteed to cover, or to fail to cover. So here we go, one more time.

WEEK ONE NFL PICKS (with the home team in CAPS):



THURSDAY

CHICAGO 4 over Green Bay

SUNDAY

MINNESOTA 6 over Atlanta

Baltimore 8 over MIAMI

CLEVELAND 9 over Tennessee

Kansas City 7 over JACKSONVILLE

PHILADELPHIA 11 over Washington

Los Angeles Rams 2 over CAROLINA

NEW YORK JETS 1 over Buffalo

SEATTLE 10 over Cincinnati

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS 2 over Indianapolis

DALLAS 6 over New York Giants

ARIZONA 3 over Detroit

NEW ENGLAND 3 over Pittsburgh

MONDAY

NEW ORLEANS 7 over Houston

OAKLAND 4 over Denver

Lock of the Week:

San Francisco 6 over TAMPA BAY

I use Bovada.lv’s odds, and Bovada, and most of the other sites I checked, has the game even.

Mack Brown’s promising (re-) start

When North Carolina finally fired Larry Fedora as football coach, I’d hoped the Tar Heels would hire Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield. Some coaches will win no matter where they go, and Satterfield is one of them.

But instead of looking to the mountains, and Boone, 162 miles west, North Carolina looked to Sun City. On Nov. 26, 2018, the Tar Heels hired Mack Brown, who last week turned 68. Eight days later, Louisville hired Satterfield.

The Brown hiring surprised me. Games change, and coaches who refuse to adjust get left behind. This might be what we’re seeing with Jon Gruden, 56, and his Oakland Raiders.

Despite the surprise, and despite the hope that Satterfield would go to Chapel Hill, I liked the Brown hiring.

Because of the adoration coaches receive from players, students and boosters, college coaches can be incredibly pretentious. Yeah, I know, journalists can be, too.

Yet Brown is a remarkably likable guy. Think Alabama’s Nick Saban. Now think the opposite of Nick Saban.

Brown is a man people enjoy being around, not a bad attribute no matter how you make a living. I regularly wrote about him the first time he coached at North Carolina, from 1988 to ’97, and went to Austin after Texas hired him. The Longhorns loved the man. When I was there, I heard the chant, “Orange Jesus.”

Seemed like a good chant.

Brown, who has a record of 245-122-1, did one thing very well the last time he was in Chapel Hill. He not only recruited players, he recruited their coaches. Brown was aware of the hours high school coaches work, and let the coaches know that he knew. He appreciated their good work. They appreciated Brown.

Brown constructed a network of coaches. But how many are still around? Are younger coaches aware of him? Are players?

The decision to hire Brown was criticized. North Carolina had the courage to be different. To be different is to be criticized.

When Brown won in Charlotte on Saturday in the first game of his final North Carolina tour, when the Tar Heels upset South Carolina 24-20 at Bank of America Stadium, Brown choked up in his post-game interview with ESPN.

His reaction was spontaneous and emotional and just happy, happy that his players, who had earned a reputation for being unable to finish under Fedora, were able to finish.

The team and coaches made numerous mistakes. But when the Tar Heels and their true freshman quarterback had to play with confidence and poise, they did. When they had to make a play that could put them into position to win, they did.

Yes, Brown is 68. But has the game passed him by? It has not.

What happens next? I have no idea. Brown’s Tar Heels are not a powerhouse.

But they are undefeated. When was the last time the Tar Heels were undefeated at this juncture of the season?

Short takes: Happy for young guys who made the team

Happy to see Reggie Bonnafon make the 53-man Carolina Panthers roster, and to see Elijah Holyfield and Temarrick Hemingway make the 10-man practice squad. If I talk to a guy on the side of the field in Spartanburg, and nobody else talks to him that day, I claim him. I claim those three. So, gentlemen, good work…

New Charlotte 49ers coach Will Healy turned football into a celebration at Richardson Stadium in Charlotte’s 49-28 victory against Gardner-Webb. His players believe. Fans do, too. Man, do they want to believe.

If Healy can turn the football team into a winner, and Ron Sanchez can turn the basketball team into a winner, this city will react. Alumni look for a reason to return to campus. Perhaps Healy and Sanchez will give them one…

You can shop around for odds you better like, but NFL futures bets are appealing. If you bet $100 on the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl 54, you can win $700. Bet $100 on the New Orleans Saints, you can win $800. Bet $100 on the Carolina Panthers’ opponent this week, the Los Angeles Rams, you can win $850.

Bet $100 on the Atlanta Falcons, and you can win $3,000. Bet $100 on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and you – well, you aren’t going to bet on the Bucs. Bet $100 on the Carolina Panthers, and you can win $5,000.

Does this mean odds makers hate the Panthers? No. It means that to entice people to bet on them, odds makers had to offer attractive odds…

Tom Sorensen is a retired sports columnist.
  Comments