The 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone and it’s now time to begin projecting this coming regular season.
DraftKings Sportsbook has already posted odds for each team to make the postseason, giving bettors an opportunity to see how oddsmakers think of each team.
The Carolina Panthers are an intriguing bet, with long odds of +260 to make the postseason. After a series of offseason moves, development for a young roster, and some positive schedule variance, the Panthers may be poised to take a step forward and make the postseason.
After using all seven draft picks on defensive players in 2020, the Panthers used their first round pick on South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. Carolina finished 17th in Defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, a promising sign for a young defense. With Horn in the fold, Carolina is only going to improve on that side of the ball.
On offense, the team acquired Sam Darnold from the Jets this offseason. It feels like we haven’t seen Darnold at his maximum capacity just yet. At 23, the USC product was marred by injuries and incompetence on the New York coaching staff. With Joe Brady running the offense in Carolina and more weapons than he has ever had, Darnold may be primed for a big step forward in a contract year.
One of those weapons is Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is one of the most dynamic running backs in football, but missed all but three games this season after not missing one in his three years prior. With some good health, CMC will be in line for a big year alongside Darnold in the backfield.
In year two of the Matt Rhule regime, the Panthers are ready to take a step forward and compete. Check out the NFL computer picks we have here that have simulated this season to figure out how well the Panthers will be this season.
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We know that the Buccaneers are primed to win the division after winning Super Bowl LV, but the rest of the division is a mixed bag.
The Saints are set to take a step back. With a bloated cap sheet and a question mark at quarterback -- Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston? -- New Orleans is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Meanwhile, the Falcons are looking to make another playoff push with Matt Ryan under center. After selecting do-it-all tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 pick, the Falcons made their offense even more explosive, but continued to neglect the defense and their aging quarterback.
The Falcons were 24th in the league in opponents passing success, per SharpFootballStats in 2020. While the team picked up a potential contributor in the second round, Richie Grant, there is still work to be done on the D and I expect that to be an issue yet again in 2021.
Back to Carolina, who had a grueling schedule in 2020, the second toughest according to FootballOutsiders. The good news is that the team is set to have the seventh easiest in 2021, making for a clearer path to a strong year.
It’s not far-fetched to see the Panthers rise to second in the division with the Saints due for a step back and the Falcons further away than the organization seems to think with the aging Matt Ryan.
Things are falling into place for this team. The Panthers do have a young roster, but one that should take a step forward in the second year under Rhule. While Teddy Bridgewater was admirable at quarterback last season, Darnold raises the ceiling of the offense.
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Getting out of New York could be the best thing to ever happen to Darnold, who is joining an explosive offense that should be healthier in 2021. The team also grabbed a former Brady weapon in Terrace Marshall Jr. from LSU in the second round. Him, Robby Anderson, and D.J. Moore makes for a formidable wide receiver corps.
The Panthers are seen as the fourth choice in the NFC South, but I’m more bullish on their potential next season than either New Orleans or Atlanta for the reasons I listed above.
Buy low on this budding team that has the pieces in place to make a postseason push.