The 2022 NFL season is finally upon us. After nearly seven months without football, fans across the country are itching to get back into the stands and watch their teams play again. The NFL will look very different this year, and that includes the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina didn't make the most changes this offseason, but they were noticeable nonetheless. After the Sam Darnold experiment flopped, the Panthers brought in Baker Mayfield to be their new stating quarterback. They also addressed their porous offensive line by drafting Ikem Ekwonu out of NC State at sixth overall.

Expectations for Carolina are low this year following three straight five-win seasons. According to FanDuel, the Panthers odds for the Super Bowl are +10000, the eighth-longest odds in the league. However, betting odds don't decide games, and no one knows for certain what will happen this season.

With all that said, here are a few bold predictions for the Panthers in 2022.

4. Brian Burns gets 15 sacks

Carolina had a litany of problems last season, but the defense was relatively sound. The Panthers finished the season with the second-best total defense in the NFL, allowing 305.9 yards per game. The issue is that they allowed too many points, 23.8 per game, which ranked 21st in the league.

While not flawless, Carolina's defense is a solid unit, and Brian Burns is the clear headliner. The former first-rounder out of Florida State has been a great piece for Carolina, with 25.5 sacks in his first three seasons. At 24, he's already a great player, but still has room to grow even more.

Burns has had nine sacks in each of the last two seasons. In year four, he could take another step forward and surpass the double-digit sack mark for the first time. Burns has just two years left on his rookie deal, and a 15-sack season would go a long way toward a big payday.

3. Baker Mayfield bounces back

About a year and a half ago, Baker Mayfield was arguably the most loved man in Cleveland. Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff appearance in 18 years, and then thrashed the rival Steelers in the Wild Card round. For a team that had gone through quarterback after quarterback, it seemed the Browns finally found their answer at the position.

Then the 2021 season happened, and everything went downhill. Mayfield played through a serious shoulder injury and was a shell of himself for much of the season, and Cleveland stumbled to an 8-9 finish. Trade rumors involving Mayfield circulated all offseason, and after the Browns acquired Deshaun Watson, a divorce was inevitable.

Months later, the Panthers acquired Mayfield for an absolute bargain. The trade is a low-risk move with huge payoff if Mayfield can recapture his old form.

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A lot has to go right for Mayfield to bounce back, particularly along the offensive line. That said, he has an outstanding receiver to throw to in D.J. Moore and another quality option in Robbie Anderson. If Mayfield gels with his new team, he has a great shot at returning to his peak form.

2. Christian McCaffrey wins Comeback Player of the Year

Everyone who follows the NFL knows the plight of Christian McCaffrey. The former eighth-overall pick has outstanding talent, as he showed with over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in 2019. The downside is his injury history, with just ten games under his belt in the last two seasons.

McCaffrey may be under contract with Carolina through 2025, but this feels like a make-or-break season. He needs to prove to the Panthers that he can stay on the field consistently, and that he can still maintain his elite form over an entire season.

If things bounce just the right way, McCaffrey could be in for a major bounce-back season. Like with Mayfield, it depends on many factors, especially the blocking up front. If he remains healthy though, he is a strong contender for the Comeback Player of the Year award.

1. The Panthers sneak into the playoffs

This year, the NFC playoff picture appears pretty cut and dry. Teams such as the Rams, Buccaneers and Packers are near locks for the playoffs, while others, such as the Bears and Falcons appear destined for the basement. The Panthers often appear closer to the latter group, but don't count Carolina out so soon.

Carolina has some great players on its roster, including Moore, Burns and McCaffrey. The roster may not be as stacked as others, but it's far from the worst in the league.

Even with that though, the Panthers' schedule is pretty tough this year, but a path to the playoffs exists. The Panthers should be able to beat the Giants, Lions and Falcons twice, so that's four wins to start off. Matchups with the Browns, Cardinals, Steelers and two against the Saints are up in the air, but let's be optimistic and give them four of those five games.

The tricky part comes with matchups against some of the elite teams in the league, including the 49ers, Rams, Bengals, Broncos, Ravens and two against the Buccaneers. On paper, all of these teams far exceed the Panthers in terms of talent. However, talent alone doesn't decide games, and Carolina could sneak out a couple of wins against these teams.

If all of that happens, the Panthers finish the season 10-7 and in great position for a playoff spot. This prediction is definitely a long shot, but that's what bold predictions are for.