Welcome to the best NFL offseason series you'll ever read -- that is, if you're like me, and you want nothing more than the blissful lie that your team will be good in 2019. How Your Team Won Super Bowl 54 will take you through each NFL franchise with one goal in mind: convincing you that there's at least one universe in which Your Team wins it all. I'm Doctor Strange, you're Tony Stark, the Avengers are Your Team, Thanos is...Bill Belichick? I've lost the metaphor.
One thing's for sure:
You'll die in the end. Your Team is going to win Super Bowl 54.
I -- and I actually mean it this time -- will give my shoulder to Cam Newton
Is it as simple as wrapping Cam in bubble wrap? It just might be.
Let's not forget that the Panthers were 6-2 last season, en route to a back-to-back winning season for *checks notes* the first time in franchise history. They had beaten good teams in Dallas, Baltimore, and Philly -- all future playoff squads. Norv Turner was doing good things for the offense -- in the cartography of shocking sentences to write, we've officially reached uncharted waters -- and the defense was humming along with strong veteran and young contributions alike.
Now, the best part of going 6-2 is not knowing that you're about to lose your next seven games and only win in Week 17 because the Saints are resting starters. The scales of the NFL strike swiftly and with prejudice. Panthers: 7-9.
How quickly this team fell apart after Newton's shoulder injury was really something to behold. He was first put on the injury report following a Week 5 17-point comeback against the Philadelphia Eagles, and from that point, was pulled for Hail Marys and saw his practice reps managed. Against the Steelers in Week 9, Newton took a shot the shoulder, and the offense took a shot to the gut: the target depth, which was already shorter than Newton's typically dynamic output, dropped off a cliff; completion percentage and accuracy both bottomed out; Newton's characteristic power-running style all but vanished.
Newton was gone, and with him so went the Panthers.
Does a healthy Newton...make the Panthers sneaky Super Bowl competitors in 2019? It's a bit of an ipso facto conclusion -- a healthy Newton makes the Panthers a dangerous team every year -- but they were one of the top teams in the NFC before they lost Newton's juice. The team's young weapons have likely improved, the offensive line has healthy pieces back and a shiny new toy in Matt Paradis, and the defense is much returned and bolstered by high-profile additions (Bruce Irvin, Gerald McCoy, Brian Burns).
If Newton holds the balance in his *Google search* right deltoid, then you should seriously consider a change in his play style and even in your offensive approach. Newton's a huge dude who takes a lot of shots he doesn't need to take -- and, I think rightfully, many Carolina fans complain that he doesn't get the same protection as a lot of feebler QBs because of his size, strength, and aggressive play style. Newton will never be a quick-game distributor, but adding protection to his deep concepts and limiting his rollouts makes sense for the long-term success of the franchise, even if it bites into Newton's highlight reel footage.
Wheew, that was about the most serious I've ever been in this series. I just find the Panthers a fascinating team in the 2019 season. They finally started an analytics department, too! Fun times in the Carolinas.
Make Christian McCaffrey's biceps bigger
Listen, I'm not an NFL scout or anything, but I know two things:
1) Christian McCaffrey's arms have gotten significantly bigger during his young NFL career
2) Christian McCaffrey's game has steadily improved during his young NFL career
That's indisputable evidence that big biceps make good running backs. I don't make the rules, folks -- I just report the data.
If he leads the league in touches this year (very possible, especially if Newton fluctuates at non-100% health), then that's a whole new dataset on biceps v. volume that will be interesting to...regression analyze? Either way, I stan Swole Boy McCaff and his dedication to arm day.
How The Carolina Panthers Won Super Bowl 54
The Panthers start Will Grier in every game against a sub-.500 team to keep Newton's reps down -- he goes 3-3, and by the end of the year, they're developing the most advanced 2QB sets the NFL has ever seen. McCaffrey sets the single-season scrimmage yard record, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel arrive at fisticuffs bickering about who is actually better, in a vicarious realization of Panthers Twitter, and Brian Burns out-sacks Josh Allen so that I can taunt people on Twitter. The Panthers beat the Browns 26-21 on a walk-off Hail Mary thrown by Cam Newton -- his first since 2017.
How many universes does this happen in?
30 out of 1000. I like my sneaky Panthers bid, but not that much.
How it all goes wrong