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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
All right, time for the first-ever mailbag on this space devoted entirely to Panthers fans. We're breaking it up into four individual mailbags (one for each team), but I still would like to have some more questions to work with from Falcons fans. For now, onto the Panthers:
Jim in Charlotte writes: Miss you in Charlotte, keep up the good work. With the upcoming schedule, can you see the Panthers going 8 and 0 or 7 and 1 over the first half? And how do you think they will finish? Thanks, Jim
Pat Yasinskas: 8-0 or 7-1 is not impossible, but certainly very ambitious. With wins very possible against Minnesota, Atlanta and Kansas City coming in the next three games, a 5-0 start is realistic. But division games with Tampa Bay and New Orleans loom after that and I still think this is going to be a very competitive division. I see the Panthers in the playoffs and, perhaps, winning the NFC South. I'll put the usual disclaimer here that injuries, etc., can always change things, but Carolina's shown in the first two weeks it's for real.
David in Charlotte writes: Pat, Enjoyed the Steve Smith article. I thought the picture of Leadership w/ Integrity 1st was painted very well. I'm left hanging though wondering if this was because of the owner - who was a player for the Colts once - so he's lived these situations in the locker room and he has strong NFL relationships? Or was this all his staff? The reason it matters is because we will go through many coaches - but the owner makes his/her expectations known. Wouldn't it be fun to contrast the owners....some have the win at all cost mentality -- others care more about the future of the NFL and the character of the sport. regards, David
Pat Yasinskas: Great points. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is the only owner to play in the league. He also is very big on integrity and one of the most impressive people I've ever known. The Panthers like to say all football decisions are left up to John Fox and Marty Hurney and that's almost entirely true. At very least though, Hurney and Fox work for Richardson and know what he expects. In the Steve Smith case, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Richardson was involved in the decision. I'd say it's a strong possibility, but we'll probably never know for sure. Richardson likes to keep a very low-profile and for most of the last few years I worked for The Charlotte Observer, he would only give one interview a year and he would do it with me at the NFL's spring meeting. I wish -- and I told Mr. Richardson this many times -- that he would talk to the media more often. He's a fascinating man with lots of stories and insight. But it's his choice and he chooses to keep quiet most of the time. Richardson gets unfairly portrayed because some local media and fans see him as being an incommunicado owner and that's flat-out wrong. If that host would look around the league and at the other sports, he'd see a lot of owners who talk far less than Richardson. In the five seasons I covered the Buccaneers, Malcolm Glazer and I had one conversation. He said hello and I said hello. Or when's the last time you heard Al Davis address the media?