Welcome to FanSided’s 2022 NFL preview! It’s time to look into our crystal football and take a glimpse at the Carolina Panthers season prediction.
After another five-win season for the Carolina Panthers in 2021, it was clear big changes were once again on the horizon this offseason. After an eventful few months for everyone across the organization, is Matt Rhule in a better position to lead his team back to prominence next time around?
Carolina Panthers 2021 season in review
- 5-11 record
- 4th place in NFC South
- Didn’t Qualify for Playoffs
Things actually started well for the Panthers last season. The team generated some early momentum against inferior opposition over the first three weeks to go undefeated, but things spiraled out of control soon after and left many wondering whether Rhule would be given a third season as head coach to steer this sinking ship around.
Losing 12 of their final 14 games was a microcosm of how things have transpired under Rhule so far. Cam Newton’s bombshell return provided some signs of life, but this disintegrated quickly as Carolina slumped to their third consecutive season with just five wins to show for their efforts.
Another notable takeaway from the campaign was a distinct lack of accountability within the locker room. Something that has to change if the Panthers want to make strides in 2022.
Carolina Panthers 2022 NFL Draft class
- Rd 1: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
- Rd 3: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
- Rd 4: Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State
- Rd 6: Amare Barno, EDGE, Virginia Tech
- Rd 6: Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee
- Rd 7: Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor
The Panthers didn’t have much in the way of draft capital heading into the weekend. However, those in power maximized every opportunity and struck with conviction when prospects of interest were there for the taking.
Carolina got a stroke of good fortune when Ikem Ekwonu – the top prospect on their board – fell out of the top five and into their laps. After an initial period of transition, the North Carolina State product starts at left tackle and could become a franchise cornerstone if everything goes well.
Trading up for Matt Corral provides the Panthers with a long-term option under center. Unfortunately for the player, he’ll miss the entire 2022 campaign after suffering a serious foot injury that requires surgery.
Amare Barno, Brandon Smith, Cade Mays, and Kalon Barnes are all athletic individuals with high upsides. Whether they can assist right out of the gate next season is another matter.
Previewing Carolina Panthers’ offense for 2022 season
- Key offseason additions:
- Baker Mayfield, QB
- Bradley Bozeman,
- Austin Corbett, WR
- Rashard Higgins, WR
- D’Onta Foreman, RB
- Biggest X-Factor: Christian McCaffrey, RB
- Squeakiest Wheel: Ian Thomas, TE
It’s all change for the Panthers’ offense next season. And make no mistake, this was an absolute necessity if the team wants to stand any chance of making legitimate progress.
After another torrid campaign across the offensive line, Carolina made strengthening this area its top priority during the offseason. In addition to Ekwonu’s arrival, the Panthers picked up two established figures in Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman, who should provide a significant upgrade on the interior if everything clicks into place.
Of course, Baker Mayfield’s arrival via trade comes with increased expectations. The quarterback was confirmed the starter recently and has a huge chip on his shoulder, but questions remain about whether or not the quarterback can return to the 2020 form that guided the Cleveland Browns to their first playoff win wince 1994.
Despite Mayfield’s arrival, this offense will only go as far as Christian McCaffrey takes them. The running back’s featured just 10 times in two seasons thanks to various injury problems, so new coordinator Ben McAdoo must find a way to maximize his production while keeping him fresh.
There is enough within the wide receiver room to make improvements. D.J. Moore is the focal point, but expect Robbie Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Rashard Higgins, and Shi Smith to become factors at various stages in 2022.
One weak link on offense that could hold Carolina back is the tight end position. Ian Thomas was extended before free agency and Tommy Tremble flashed as a rookie, but McAdoo needs to work his magic in pursuit of generating better numbers from the duo.
Previewing Carolina Panthers’ defense for 2022 season
- Key offseason additions:
- Xavier Woods,
- Damien Wilson,
- Matt Ioannidis,
- Cory Littleton, LB
- Biggest X-Factor: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE
- Squeakiest Wheel: Inside LB position
Although the Panthers’ defense regressed down the stretch in 2021 thanks in no small part to inept offensive efficiency, there is a quiet sense of optimism surrounding this group next season. Phil Snow has a dynamic group that demonstrated real growth last time around and they’ve been bolstered by some intriguing additions that could take the league by storm.
Losing Haason Reddick, Stephon Gilmore, and DaQuan Jones in free agency were calculated risks. The Panthers will be hoping others step up and fill the void, with much more expected of players such as Yetur Gross-Matos and Marquis Haynes across the defensive line.
Brian Burns is another that carries the team’s hopes. The explosive pass-rusher earned his first Pro Bowl selection during the previous campaign and had his fifth-year option triggered, so any further improvements in 2022 could see the player secure a megabucks deal in his immediate future.
The secondary is an area to watch. Carolina’s cornerback trio of Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, and C.J. Henderson look the part this offseason, with the safety tandem of Jeremy Chinn and Xavier Woods set to provide an assured presence on the backend to further enhance their cause.
Shaq Thompson and the emerging Frankie Luvu provide the energy at outside linebacker. Although the Panthers are still finding life difficult when it comes to replacing perennial All-Pro Luke Kuechly on the second-level interior.
With that being said, if their top stars can remain healthy throughout the season, then the Panthers’ defense might be among the league’s best when it’s all said and done.
Carolina Panthers 2022 coaching staff overview
- Head Coach: Matt Rhule
- Off. Coordinator: Ben McAdoo
- Def. Coordinator: Phil Snow
- 2023 Head Coach Candidate: Steve Wilks
After some serious pressure from the fanbase to go in a different direction, team owner David Tepper remained loyal to Matt Rhule and gave him a reprieve despite plenty of evidence to suggest it wasn’t the correct call. The former Baylor man enters 2022 on the hot seat, but there is a fresh sense of urgency within the coaching staff after multiple changes during the offseason.
Ben McAdoo’s complex offensive scheme has gone over well throughout camp. Offensive line coach James Campen brings a wealth of experience and his impact has also been felt in no uncertain terms.
Perhaps the most intriguing addition to the coaching staff is Steve Wilks. The defensive backs coach has made his presence felt immediately and if Carolina’s secondary performs as expected in 2022, some head coaching interest might not be far behind.
Chris Tabor is the special teams’ coach, which should also help a considerable amount. Everything is in place, but Rhule must now prove he is capable of leading an NFL franchise effectively.
Carolina Panthers Awards Watch
There are some key men that will determine whether the Panthers can reach or exceed their goals in 2022. Keeping them healthy will be crucial, but it might also see certain individuals come into award contention at the end of the campaign.
Christian McCaffrey, MVP
It’s been a long time since anyone other than a quarterback secured NFL MVP honors. Adrian Peterson was the last to achieve this feat, but Christian McCaffrey could enter the discussion given the elite skill set at his disposal.
Even though McCaffrey’s injury problems are well documented, he is still the league’s best dual-threat running back when healthy. Carolina will rely heavily on the former first-round pick once again and if he puts a consistent run of games together, anything is possible.
This is a long shot, to put it mildly. But if anyone is capable of proving his doubters wrong, it’s McCaffrey.
Baker Mayfield, Comeback Player of the Year
To say things have been turbulent for Baker Mayfield this offseason would be an understatement. The quarterback endured a down year in 2021 after playing through a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, which was all the Cleveland Browns needed to move in a different direction by acquiring Deshaun Watson.
Mayfield is now fully healthy and has made a big impact in a relatively short space of time in Carolina. More importantly, the childish and immature accusations labeled towards the quarterback have been non-existent so far.
The Heisman Trophy winner provides the Panthers with an edge they were sorely missing with Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater. If Mayfield’s road to redemption goes well, then NFL Comeback Player of the Year could be within reach.
Jaycee Horn, Comeback Player of the Year
It was a small sample size for Jaycee Horn as a rookie. The No. 8 overall selection broke his foot in Week 3 at the Houston Texans, which derailed what was a sensational start to life in the NFL.
The Panthers have taken a cautious approach with Horn in pursuit of avoiding more complications. He is a shutdown cornerback in the making and looks hungry to make up for some lost time in 2022.
Horn has the athletic attributes to be an absolute star. Something that could see him win NFL Comeback Player of the Year with a smooth-sailing season.
Biggest game on Carolina Panthers schedule in 2022
Let’s get the biggest one out of the way early. The Baker Mayfield revenge game in Week 1 against the team that cast him aside.
Bank of America Stadium will be absolutely rocking for Mayfield’s competitive debut versus the Cleveland Browns. An instant opportunity to show what he can bring to Carolina and set the tone for what will hopefully be a positive campaign.
The Browns will now want Mayfield sticking it to them, no matter what Myles Garrett says about there being no rivalry. Not having Deshaun Watson under center makes the Panthers a lively contender to get off on the best foot possible, which will settle everyone down after a rollercoaster offseason period.
Carolina Panthers season prediction: Best case scenario
Carolina’s fanbase hasn’t had much to cheer since their memorable Super Bowl run in 2015. That could all change in 2022.
The Panthers have already displayed the right mindset this offseason. They are going to be nobody’s rollovers when competitive games begin and providing some early momentum is generated, then a potential wild card push could be within reach.
Aspiring to win a Super Bowl appears unrealistic. However, if the Panthers start well and keep everyone healthy, then a winning record and a return to the postseason is an attainable goal.
Carolina Panthers worst case scenario
Anything similar to last season would be nothing short of a disaster. A scenario that will likely spell the end of Matt Rhule just three seasons into a seven-year, $62 million deal.
The stakes are incredibly high and there isn’t much margin for error. But there is a possibility the pressure cooker becomes too much for one of the NFL’s youngest rosters.
Carolina Panthers 2022 season prediction
- 9-8 record
- 2nd place in NFC South
- Playoff Prediction: Loss in Wild Card round
The NFC is not exactly loaded heading into the season. So the Panthers have a real chance of making some noise if everyone remains on the same page from start to finish.
Attaining postseason football might seem like a million miles away for a team like the Panthers, who are entering a crossroads campaign that could legitimately go either way. However, there is more than enough urgency to improve and a 9-8 record might be enough for a wild card spot given the lack of quality depth within the conference.
This would save Matt Rhule’s job and might even see Baker Mayfield receive a contract extension. But there is just no telling for sure given how things have transpired of late.
Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be another bumpy ride.