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NFL handicapper Jason Yamaguchi outlines his thoughts about the Panthers' win total for the upcoming season. Come find out his pick for Baker Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers.

2022 NFL Prediction: How Will the Carolina Panthers Fare with Baker Mayfield at the Helm?

In 2021, the Carolina Panthers lost seven straight games to finish out the year, ending with a record of 5-12. It was Matt Rhule's first year as head coach, but the team did him no favors — abysmal quarterback play, a slew of injuries, and a turnstile offensive line doomed their season. In fact, the Panthers opted to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady during the middle of the season due to the offense's inability to score points (29th in the NFL w/ 17.9 points per game in 2021).

As the 2022 season approaches, there is little optimism surrounding the Panthers. They added a solid quarterback in Baker Mayfield and shuffled some parts of the roster, but many feel that those changes will fail to pull the team into relevancy. Is that true, or will Carolina surprise the masses by challenging for a wildcard spot in a relatively weak NFC? Let's take a closer look.

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2022 NFL Prediction - Carolina Panthers

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A Mediocre Offense On Paper

The major move of the offseason for the Panthers was trading a conditional fifth-round pick to the Browns in exchange for quarterback Baker Mayfield. It was a necessary move for the Browns — they had already acquired Deshaun Watson and signed him to a monster extension, leading Baker to demand an opportunity to start elsewhere.

Given the price they paid (virtually nothing), this was an excellent, savvy move by the Panthers. Viable starting quarterbacks are arguably the most scarce commodity in all of professional sports, and they acquired one at his absolute lowest value.

Notably, Baker's trade value had plummeted due to two main factors. The first was his underwhelming 2021 campaign, during which he posted 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 35.1 quarterback rating. However, looking beyond the numbers, he played through multiple debilitating injuries, including a fully-torn labrum in his left shoulder. That, combined with the lack of aerial weapons on the Browns' roster, goes a long way towards explaining why Baker's 2021 numbers fell short of the mark.

Along with the poor 2021 campaign, Baker's trade value was essentially nil because every team in the NFL knew that the only possible result of the standoff between him and the Browns was a trade. In other words, the Browns had no leverage, and the Panthers used that to their advantage by snagging Baker, a capable NFL quarterback, for a late-round draft pick.

The problem for the Panthers lies beyond Baker Mayfield. He's a serviceable starter, yes, but he does not have the talent to elevate a roster that is less-than-great. Unfortunately, the rest of Carolina's offense is many, many miles away from being great. Christian McCaffrey is a formidable weapon out of the backfield, but he has played just 10 games since 2019 due to an avalanche of soft-tissue injuries. D.J. Moore is a receiver who has been underrated for years, but the Panthers have absolutely zero viable options at receiver other than him. Carolina added a top prospect at tackle to their offensive line, but question marks remain at offensive guard. And the list goes on.

Overall, there is no unit on this team's offense that I feel comfortable trusting to perform at an above-average level over the course of the 2022 season. Baker's strongest season came in 2020 when the Browns had a top-3 offensive line and a superb rushing game to support him. I see neither of those things resurfacing here in Carolina; he will not sink the team, but he does not have the system and surrounding talent necessary to flourish, either. This will likely be a bottom-10 offense in football this season.

A Shallow and Inadequate Defense

Last year, the sole defensive bright spot for the Panthers was pass-rusher Brian Burns, who earned his first Pro Bowl appearance with a stellar campaign (9 sacks, 18 QB hits, 13 tackles for loss). Other than the defensive ends, though, virtually every position group on Carolina's defense was lacking high-end talent, and nothing was done in the offseason to rectify the issue.

In terms of Carolina's secondary, the biggest boost may come from the return of 2021 first-round pick Jaycee Horn. The second-year cornerback missed 14 games in his rookie season due to a broken foot. Despite optimistic reports out of training camp, I'm hesitant to pencil Horn in as a rock-solid option at corner. There is a notoriously steep learning curve for cornerbacks when they make the jump from college to the NFL, and Horn is effectively still a rookie.

After Horn, the next two cornerbacks likely to shoulder the lion's share of snaps for the Panthers are Donte Jackson and C.J Henderson. Jackson is a serviceable — if unspectacular — starting option at corner. I see him, roughly, as an average CB2. Henderson was a first-round pick in 2020, but he has struggled to find his footing in the NFL. This cornerback room as a whole has limited upside, while the downside is massive due to the aforementioned question marks that surround Horn and Henderson. Jeremy Chinn and Xavier Woods make up a capable safety pairing, but they aren't quite good enough to elevate this entire unit. It's a bottom-12 secondary until it proves otherwise.

As for the rest of the defense, Brian Burns is the only pass-rusher on the roster who has demonstrated a capacity to start at the NFL level. Yetur Gross-Matos, who has been an abject failure since entering the league, is currently listed as the Panthers' other starting defensive end. The depth chart only gets worse from there. Carolina's lack of a second threat at this position will bury them — teams will game plan around Burns, knowing that they can double him without risk of being punished elsewhere. In the modern NFL, when you combine an inability to pressure the quarterback with a spotty group of cornerbacks, bad things tend to happen.

Final Thoughts

Put frankly, the Panthers are not a good football team. They have a couple of talented pieces but are severely lacking depth at most positions. Head coach Matt Rhule probably should have been fired last year, and it would not surprise me in the slightest to see the team show him the door before the 2022 season ends. Carolina's schedule is not the easiest, either — outside of the division, they have to play the Broncos, Ravens, Bengals, Rams, and 49ers, among others. They may manage to win seven games, but I don't see that as likely. My model gives the 2022 Panthers just 4.28 expected wins; while that seems a bit harsh, it's generally in line with how I view this team's outlook for the year.

2022 NFL Prediction - Carolina Panthers

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Article Author


Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.


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