Welcome to the 24th edition of ‘The Super Bowl Race in the Perspective of Chase’, an almost daily article on your favorite NFL team. Recently we have wrote about contenders like the Rams, Chiefs, Bills and others. But these two teams are not contenders. They are rebuilding. They both have a better chance to get a top five pick in next year’s draft than get a playoff spot. The Panthers have a lot of talent but kind of blew it up and are not totally rebuilding but also aren’t that good. For the Bears, they have shown they want to rebuild, and are going in the right direction. What will these two teams do this season? Let’s, get into this!
Before we get into this I would like to let you know that we are doing something very similar to this on the Cool Sports Newsletter for the NBA if you want to check that out. Also on there we are ranking different NFL positions. So far we have done running backs and wide receivers with quarterbacks posting the day of opening night between LA and Buffalo. But let’s get back into this!
It has been a long five years since the Carolina Panthers were a winning football team. Under Ron Rivera, and new form of offense shook up the NFL, as an MVP Cam Newton took them all the way to the Super Bowl in 2015. Despite a loss in Peyton Manning’s farewell, the Panthers were still a contender. And from 2013-2017 combined, Rivera’s squad had the 5th best record in the National Football League! However, 2018 was the start of a terrible run in Carolina. Newton went down with a season ending injury in 2019 and the Panthers were once again irrelevant. After an amazing season from Christian McCaffrey in 2019, future Hall of Fame linebacker Luke Kuechly suddenly retired after a near perfect eight year career. McCaffrey has dealt with injuries over the past two seasons and Newton ended up being released from Carolina and signing with New England. But after spending 2019 and 2020 with Kyle Allen and Teddy Bridgewater and more mediocre football, the Panthers knew they needed to change something.
The Panthers traded a 2021 6th round pick, 2022 2nd round and 2022 4th round pick to the Jets for former #3 overall pick Sam Darnold. Darnold had disappointed in his career up to this point and maybe a change of scenery would be all he needs. Well, that wasn’t the answer! Darnold struggled, especially with McCaffrey only playing seven games in 2021. Carolina ended up dealing with injuries, terrible playing and a shortage at quarterback, that they signed Cam Newton back to play a game for them and they beat the Cardinals! But that was only exciting thing for the Panthers in 2021. They finished 5-12, not knowing which direction to now move their team in!
For the Bears, it has been a quick downfall. Once upon a time, the Chicago Bears had the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 draft and selected their savior…Mitchell Trubisky! He played okay as a rookie, but then stepped up to Pro Bowl type levels in 2018. And in 2018, after just acquiring Khalil Mack, the Bears were a dominant football team! They went from 5-11 to 12-4, as they cruised their way to an NFC North title. They did end up losing early on the in the playoffs but they stilled had massive potential with a future franchise QB. Well, that changed. In 2019, the Bears weren’t even a shell of their old selves. Trubisky was average and the Bears went 8-8. But as Chase Coburn himself predicted for 2020, the Bears made the playoffs (but with the same record of 8-8), despite Trubisky still playing average. But they didn’t stand a chance against New Orleans. Everyone knew they were lucky and didn’t deserve a playoff spot. Trubisky ended up leaving to become a backup in Buffalo and the Bears instead drafted Justin Fields and signed Andy Dalton. Dalton ended up playing early but Fields was brought in and played the majority of the season. Except, he didn’t play that well. Mack was still good but he wasn’t the same. They even had Nick Foles play a game! It was that bad! The Bears ended up going 6-11 with way too many problems to fix.
In the draft, the Panthers held the 6th pick and the Bears didn’t hold any 1st round pick, since they traded it to get Justin Fields in last year’s draft. The Panthers ended up selected offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu out of N.C. State instead of Evan Neal from Alabama. Ekwonu has a lot of potential to be a great blindside tackle for their quarterback in 2022. And yes, their quarterback, because Darnold was not a guaranteed starter in 2022. Carolina was looking to move on. There weren’t many great quarterback options or frankly any franchise quarterback options in this years draft. So they instead decided to make a weird move, and trade a conditional 2024 draft pick to Cleveland for Baker Mayfield. Cleveland could afford to give him up at the time with the upgrade of Deshaun Watson and Carolina could take him for a cheap price. Baker may have not had his best season last year or anything close to it, but has proven to be a quarterback that can lead a team with a good running back to a playoff spot like he did in 2020. He could play like that. But he is a high risk, high reward, inconsistent quarterback. Was he even going to win the starting job over his fellow 2018 draft quarterback?
While a quarterback race was going in Carolina, Chicago had their own issues to worry about. They didn’t really have good draft capital as I mentioned, so they did more through trades and free agency. They started off by firing Matt Nagy after being there for four seasons, and replaced him with Matt Eberflus. Eberflus has been the defensive coordinator for the Colts since 2018 before taking this job, and the Colts have been consistently one of the top defenses in the NFL in his time there at DC. They ended up making a huge trade early on in the offseason, sending Khalil Mack to the Chargers for a 2022 2nd round pick and 2023 6th round pick. It may seem like a light package but Mack is a regressing, older linebacker and they got some picks for him. It was a good trade for Chicago. They also lost Allen Robinson to the Rams after an unsuccessful season in 2021. The Bears really didn’t do that much in free agency however. It is basically the same team but with a new coach and without Khalil Mack.
There was another quarterback added to the battle for the Panthers. 3rd round pick rookie quarterback out of Ole Miss, Matt Corral, was drafted by the Panthers and in their quarterback rotation, which is why it was surprising to see them trade for Mayfield in the first place. Unfortunately, Corral suffered a season ending foot injury in the offseason. While it was unlikely for him to get much time playing whether he was hurt or not, this just solidify’s that it’s just Mayfield and Darnold competing for the starting role. But a lot of Corral’s game is predicated on being able to role out of the pocket and improvise. Who knows how this injury will affect his speed and ability to run. The battle seemed to be pretty one sided as well, as Mayfield earned the starting job much earlier than other QB spots were decided. So last season may have been the last time you’ll see Sam Darnold as a full time starting quarterback. Darnold did suffer an injury which now puts him on the injury reserve, so Carolina signed Jacob Eason to back up Mayfield. That was pretty much the only notable signing they had this offseason.
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith “openly requested a trade” about a month ago. Now it makes sense. Smith is one of the better, more developing, young linebackers in the NFL and has potential to have a very special career. I understand why he is requesting a trade. He is going to sign an extension soon, since he would be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. And Smith doesn’t want to waist his career on a bad team. He wants to be a key piece on a Super Bowl level team. So I understand his trade request but I don’t think a deal is going to get done, and Smith will eventually sign a long term extension with Chicago. But it won’t be long after that before he is eventually dealt to his next team.
So there you have it! I am very surprised the Panthers haven’t trade McCaffrey yet, since they aren’t good enough on either side of the ball to contend for a playoff spot. It makes them not fully in a rebuilding position, and holds up their eventual timeline to contend. For the Bears, they are a rebuilding team. But now that they don’t have Robinson, I’m really excited to see what Darnell Mooney will do and how he will speed up the development for Justin Fields. I’m also very on what this run first offense led by Fields and David Montgomery could do. That is the Bears and the Panthers. Despite all of the talent, I have Carolina finishing just 3-14 in one of the toughest divisions in football, beating just the Falcons, Saints and 49ers. For the Bears, I have them overachieving expectations and winning eight games (see more about that in my season predictions podcast coming soon). The Panthers will finish with the 3rd overall pick in the draft to possibly get their franchise quarterback. The Bears will get a middle of the pack pick, by just finishing one game out of the postseason!
My prediction: Carolina struggles and finishes with 3rd worst record in the league, Chicago on the other hand finishes just one game out of the postseason.
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