Has the Panthers Super Bowl Window Officially Closed?

Going into the 2018-2019 season, hopes were as high as ever for Carolina Panthers fans around the world. A new offensive coordinator to fix old flaws, a fresh slate of weapons to surround quarterback Cam Newton, and the same old solid defense with a new but familiar face at coordinator. What could possibly go wrong? 

It appears, everything could.

Carolina jumped out to a promising start this season. Going into their week 10, Thursday night matchup at 6-2, looking to make a statement against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team was just starting to get the recognition that they thought they deserved, and then catastrophe happened. They completely dropped the ball losing 52-21 in a game where they were completely outmatched in all facets of the game.

However, hope remained high. Bad losses happen and the Panthers are going into their “easy” stretch of the season against Detroit, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. They should go undefeated in that stretch, maybe lose one of those games. They then proceeded to lose to both Detroit and Seattle and now sit at 6-5 making them out of the playoff hunt for the time being. 

In order for Carolina to make the playoffs now, it’s going to basically take them to win out and finish at 10-6, maybe 9-7 sneaks you in but there is not a lot of room for error regardless. They finish off this season at Tampa Bay, at Cleveland, home against Atlanta and the red hot New Orleans Saints twice, it’s tough to say that this team is equipped to go 3-2 during that stretch. 

As things are now, there is no way that Carolina can compete with the top teams in the league. They were already wiped out by Pittsburgh, and its very tough to believe that they can compete with the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, or the Saints who will see in a few weeks.

With all that said, has their window to win a Super Bowl in the Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly era officially closed? The defense may look completely different going into next season. Veterans Thomas Davis and Julius Peppers will be retired. Other members on the defensive line have underperformed all season and need to be replaced. Star linebacker Luke Kuechly, has suffered a lot of wear and tear on his body the past few seasons, and there is no telling how long he can keep at it. While he remains the best player on Carolina’s defense, and one of the better linebackers in the league, i’ts clear that his play on the field has significantly slowed down from what we’re use to seeing from him.

The secondary may surprisingly be the safest unit to stick around on the defensive end. Cornerbacks James Bradberry and rookie Donte Jackson have shown they’re more than capable of playing at a high level through the majority of this season and safety Eric Reid has proven that he belongs on this team.

On the offensive end, while quarterback Cam Newton is playing the best football of his career this season from a statistic viewpoint, he is 29 years old, and will be 31 when his current contract is up in 2020. Does Carolina really wan’t to extend him til he’s 35,36? If Carolina finds themselves in rebuild mode in the next couple of years, having a new staff, new personnel, they won’t want to be tied down to a old quarterback. Who knows what kind of quarterback he will be by that point in his career. Age shows, and he will more than likely lose the mobility that has carried him through a good portion of his career in Carolina. Can he continue to perform at a high level as a pure pocket passer in the latter years of his career? He has never been that, so the answer to that question is unknown. 

The good news for them is that their weapons around Newton are beginning to thrive. Christian McCaffrey became the first player in the franchise history to record both 100 rushing and receiving yards and receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are blossoming into everything the Panthers hoped they would be. These three are officially the future of the Panthers the offense needs to be built around getting them the football.

The flaws on this team are big, and have been this way for years. The nonaggressive play calling, the stinginess of personnel, the unwillingness to adapt to the game today has crippled head coach Ron “Missed Opportunities” Rivera and his staff. Rivera has had a great run in Carolina, however, he is surviving off the 2015, 15-1, Super Bowl appearance season alone. While the season isn’t over just yet, not being able to string together back to back winning seasons in eight years, with two generational talents on both sides of the ball is inexcusable.

If the Panthers front office doesn’t act quickly to correct these flaws and adapt, they will have wasted the careers of two of the most unique talents to ever step foot on a football field.

It is time for a new direction. 

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