Following a disappointing season last year, the Carolina Panthers are gambling on a return to the form of quarterback Baker Mayfield.
A big part of the Panthers’ hopes will depend on Mayfield, along with what will hopefully be an injury-free Christian McCaffrey, and if both players are able to rekindle their best form, it should improve the chances of success for the Panthers.
However, there are question marks over the Panthers, which means they are rated as outsiders to win the Super Bowl. In the latest sports betting odds by BetMGM, the Panthers are priced at +12500 to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy and +6600 to win the NFC. If the Panthers are to defy the odds, quarterback Mayfield will certainly be crucial to the success of the Panthers this season.
Head coach Matt Rhule was dealt an early blow when rookie quarterback Matt Corral suffered a serious injury in the preseason exhibition match against the New England Patriots. The torn ligament in his foot is likely to cause him to miss the entire season. The Panthers have also been rocked by the news that the groin injury, sustained by placekicker Zane Gonzalez during the 21-0 preseason win over the Buffalo Bills, has been described as significant.
The head coach has given Baker Mayfield the nod to replace last season’s first-choice NFL quarterback Sam Darnold, who will also miss the start of the season through injury. Rhule said that his decision to start with Mayfield is based on three factors: “Number one, mastery of the offense, number two, situational football excellence, and number three, moving the ball and getting guys involved.” He added that the 27-year-old quarterback has made great strides in these areas in a short period of time.
But the quarterback has a lot to prove. In 2020, Mayfield helped the Cleveland Browns to their first playoff victory since 1994, but in 2021 he struggled with a shoulder injury, which affected his performance with the Browns. Rhule will be hoping that last season’s inconsistency was an aberration and is pinning his hopes on Mayfield showing just what he can do.
Hoping for an injury-free McCaffrey
One area where the Panthers could prosper is in offense if Mayfield is able to foster a fruitful relationship with Christian McCaffrey. The 26-year-old running back struggled with injuries last season, sustaining hamstring and ankle injuries. He has played just 10 of the Panther’s last 33 games. But there is no question that McCaffrey is highly talented, with a number of records to his name, including becoming the first player in the history of the Panthers to achieve 2,000 scrimmage yards in a single season. An injury-free McCaffrey coupled with Mayfield back to his best form could enable the Panthers to spring a few surprises this season.
The Panthers’ offense will also be boosted by the signing of offensive tackle Ickey Ekwonu, drafted sixth overall in the 2022 NFL draft. The 21-year-old arrives with a big college football reputation, joining the Panthers on a four-year deal. While his strength is a major part of his game, he has also demonstrated that he is willing to learn and improve on his technique, thanks to discussions with veteran players. With Ekwonu teaming up with Mayfield and McCaffrey, it all points towards an improved Panthers offense.
The Panthers are taking a calculated gamble on quarterback Baker Mayfield returning to the form everyone knows he is capable of, but the risk of placing the responsibility on his shoulders is inherent. However, it is a risk worth taking as it could provide the team, rated an outside chance for the Super Bowl this season, with an improved offense.