NFL Training camp season is always a time for irrational exuberance. Every team thinks it can win the Super Bowl, even though 31 of those teams will end being horribly wrong. And so, to preview the upcoming NFL season, which could be the most unpredictable ever, we now give you five reasons why your favorite team could win the Super Bowl. Today, it's the Carolina Panthers.
1. Because their coach is trying this time. As I noted in the Broncos preview, you have to look pretty hard to find a season in which a coach mailed it in as egregiously as John Fox did with the Panthers last season. That team was dead weight for four months, and the team should have parted ways with Fox well before letting him play out a lame duck year like that (Fox's contract was due to expire at the end of last year, and both sides knew he wasn't returning anyway). It was a lousy, rotten, discouraging season. But at least Fox is now free of the team and they've brought in Ron Rivera, former defensive coordinator of the Chargers (and the Bears during their 2006 Super Bowl run) and a man who looks like he could still tear you in half. He's even intense when squinting. If Carolina doesn't win this season, he may very well begin killing and eating opposing players, and I would like that very much. This team will play very hard, and that's more than you could say about them last season.
2. This is the part where we talk ourselves into Cam Newton. If you ignore the fact that the #1 pick from the 2011 draft has never had to actually learn ANY offensive system, let alone a pro one, you could talk yourself into thinking he could be a superstar QB, which is just what the Panthers did this spring. After all, Cam is big. And strong. And fast. And he has a dazzling smile (entertainer AND icon!). He also won lots and lots of games during his one year at Auburn. And you can certainly point to QBs like Michael Vick and Ben Roethliberger as examples of guys who have had NFL success despite lacking, uh, certain intellectual advantages. Still, Newton will be learning what amounts to an entirely new sport this fall, and there's no guarantee he'll be able to master it. Then again... BIG STRONG MAN WITH BALL GRRRR HE'S A WINNER. GUYS!
3. When you pay DeAngelo Williams that much money, you better get a title out of it. You would have thought Jerry Richardson, one of the leading forces behind the NFL lockout, would be a bit more parsimonious with his payroll. But holy smokes, did he spend a lot of money this past month, with Newton ($22 million), DE Charles Johnson ($32 million), and RB DeAngelo Williams ($21 million) all getting huge guarantees. The Williams one is especially crazy because, while Williams is very good, he's prone to injury and the team has an excellent back in Jonathan Stewart playing next to him. This team may run 60 times a game this season. They may even institute fines for throwing.
4. SHOCKEY! Remember when the Panthers signed TE Jeremy Shockey before the lockout even started? No? Fear not. I didn't either. But look! There he is! With the tattoos and everything! NEVER FORGET THE SHOCKEY FACTOR.
5. Beware the three-headed QB warrior! Newton is your presumed starter for Carolina right now, but waiting behind him are the illustrious duo of Jimmy Clausen (he'll never live down this photo) and Derek "Horse Balls" Anderson, he of the "laughing on the sidelines" tirade from last season. Between those three surely, one can lead the Panthers to the promised land this year, no? No? I guess not. Still, LOOK AT CAM SMILE!