Jake Delhomme is back, healthy and as we all saw last year is the real key to the success of this team.
There is a running game too. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart should provide the best one-two punch since the 2003 season exploits of Steven Davis and DeShaun Foster.
That 2003 offensive line featured a rookie at right tackle, Jordan Gross. The 2008 unit also does the same with Jeff Otah. I used to think you needed a few years to get an o-line to jell to be successful in the NFL but now, thanks to free agency and a win now mentality, you need a few games.
The Panthers o-line play is the key to Sunday's game with San Diego. Control the ball, pound the ball, keep the Chargers offense off the field and the Panthers can pull the "big upset" of week one.
In the 13 year history of the team, the Panthers have had two one thousand yard rushers, Anthony Johnson in 1996 and the above mentioned Davis in 2003. As good as Jake Delhomme can be and must be for this team to succeed, the running game will determine if they can make it to the playoffs or not.
A LESSON LEARNED
The Panthers will head to west coast games again this season on Friday.
This was not always the case but changed after the 2005 post season playoff loss in Seattle.
The Panthers had pulled out tough road wins over the Giants and Bears in the previous two weeks and faced another road game and this time a long trip to Seattle. At that time the team, regardless of the length of the plane ride, left the day before the game.
A few veteran players were not happy that for this huge game the club didn't go out Friday and give everyone a chance to rest, adjust to the time change, and be in a better mental frame of mind to face the Seahawks.
Since that loss, the team heads west on Friday for Sunday games.
A DIFFERENCE OF TWO TEAMS
I think its worth noting that when the NFL talks of "strength of schedule" there is really only a difference in two games per division.
This year NFC South teams face each other twice, as usual. They also will play each team in the NFC North and AFC West.
That leaves two games for each of the four NFC South teams against different opponents from the NFC East and West.
Here are those games:
Panthers: at Giants, home vs. Arizona
Saints: at Washington, home vs. the 49ers
Bucs: at Dallas, home vs. Seattle
Falcons: at Philadelphia, home vs. St. Louis
These are the two games where you face teams that finished in the same position in their divisions the year before. That's why Tampa Bay, winners of the NFC South face the Cowboys and Seahawks.