After tasting the Super Bowl a few seasons ago, the Carolina Panthers are bound and determined to get back there. However, 2017 wasn’t their year. With Cam Newton coming off shoulder surgery, Carolina’s offense was inconsistent at times, and it ended up costing them. Despite going 11-5, the Panthers had to play a road playoff game against the Saints on Wild Card Weekend, losing to New Orleans for the third time.
Despite that disappointment, the Panthers still view themselves as a legitimate contender in the NFC. With Newton leading the offense and a defense that is typically one of the best in the NFL, the Panthers no doubt have their sights set on a Super Bowl run in 2018.
However, the oddsmakers don’t see the Panthers as a threat in 2018. Carolina is listed at +4000 to win Super Bowl 53. Of course, part of that is due to the sheer difficulty of getting out of the NFC, especially the NFC South. But considering the Panthers reached the Super Bowl three seasons ago, there’s good value in picking them as a dark horse. Carolina is also projected to win nine games this season. After they won 11 games last year, it’s hard to doubt the Panthers being able to match or exceed nine wins in 2018.
Of course, a lot will depend on Newton. Coming off shoulder surgery, he completed just 59% of his passes last season while throwing 16 interceptions, the highest total since his rookie season. He also had the highest rushing output of his career, meaning the Panthers were too reliant on his legs. If the Panthers are going to surpass last year’s success, they need Newton to be better with his arm. Thus, they have brought in offensive coordinator Norv Turner to help get him on track.
Carolina also has some new faces at wide receiver to help Newton. Devin Funchess and tight end Greg Olsen are back and should be reliable targets if they can stay healthy. Torrey Smith was brought in to help replace the speed of Ted Ginn Jr. The Panthers also used their first-round pick on D.J. Moore, who they hope can add some play-making ability to the receiving corps.
It’s also important not to forget Christian McCaffrey, who can be a force in both the running game and passing game. McCaffrey should get even more touches this season with Jonathan Stewart being released. It’ll now be C.J. Anderson and Cameron Artis-Payne, both a little younger than Stewart, helping to share the carries with McCaffrey.
However, the Panthers had to replace Andrew Norwell on the offensive line. Right tackle Daryl Williams is also questionable this year after picking up an injury early in training camp, so Carolina’s offensive line may not be as reliable as it was a year ago.
Defensively, the Panthers continue to have one of the best front-7’s in all of football, led by middle linebacker Luke Keuchly. Dontari Poe was signed to replace Star Lotulelei, so the Panthers should remain stout up front. As long as Julius Peppers hasn’t lost a step, he and Mario Addison will help give Carolina a pass rush that should be among the best in the league.
Alas, the secondary remains a question mark for the Panthers. Safety Mike Adams is approaching the end of his career. The Panthers are also lacking impact players at cornerback. Having a defensive line that can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks helps prevent the secondary from being completely exposed. But the Carolina defense is still vulnerable to pass-happy teams with elite quarterback talent.
Overall, Carolina’s roster is not all that different from the team that reached the Super Bowl three seasons ago. However, they need their stars to deliver star performances in order to rise to the top of the NFC. For the Panthers, that means Newton having an MVP-caliber season.
|Sep 9||Dallas Cowboys||4:25 PM|
|Sep 16||@ Atlanta Falcons||1:00 PM|
|Sep 23||Cincinnati Bengals||1:00 PM|
|Oct 7||New York Giants||1:00 PM|
|Oct 14||@ Washington Redskins||1:00 PM|
|Oct 21||@ Philadelphia Eagles||1:00 PM|
|Oct 28||Baltimore Ravens||1:00 PM|
|Nov 4||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 PM|
|Nov 8||@ Pittsburgh Steelers||8:20 PM|
|Nov 18||@ Detroit Lions||1:00 PM|
|Nov 25||Seattle Seahawks||1:00 PM|
|Dec 2||@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 9||@ Cleveland Browns||1:00 PM|
|Dec 17||New Orleans Saints||8:15 PM|
|Dec 23||Atlanta Falcons||1:00 PM|
|Dec 30||@ New Orleans Saints||1:00 PM|
Playing every team in the NFC South twice is never easy. To make things more difficult on Carolina, the Panthers play the Saints twice and the Falcons once over the final three weeks of the season. Add to the equation road trips to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and the Panthers have a challenging schedule ahead of them in 2018.
Week 1: vs Cowboys – Win
The Cowboys aren’t much of a threat to do damage against the Carolina secondary. The Dallas defense will also struggle to keep McCaffrey under wraps, helping the Panthers win their season opener.
Week 2: at Falcons – Loss
This is the kind of game the Panthers need to win this season if they expect to win the NFC South. But the Falcons have too many weapons, helping Matt Ryan throw for 300 yards and help Atlanta beat the Panthers.
Week 3: vs Bengals – Win
The Panthers should have no trouble bouncing back at home against an overmatched Bengals team. This is a game that Newton should be able to dominate.
Week 4: Bye
Week 5: vs Giants – Win
This game is anything but a gimme for the Panthers. But Carolina’s pass rush should do enough to keep the Giants out of sync offensively. In a close, low-scoring game, Newton will make enough plays to get the win.
Week 6: at Redskins – Win
This road game proves harder than anticipated. But the Carolina defense travels well, and they manage to do enough to get the win.
Week 7: at Eagles – Loss
Against the Eagles, it’s difficult for the Panthers to focus on any one player. Carson Wentz spreads the ball around and the Carolina defense can’t keep up, nor can Newton and the offense, as the Panthers miss out on an opportunity to get a statement win.
Week 8: vs Ravens – Win
The Carolina pass rush has a field day against Joe Flacco, who’s not all that mobile. Offensively, the Panthers struggle to move the ball, but they grind out enough yards on the ground to get the win.
Week 9: vs Buccaneers – Win
Jameis Winston gives the Panthers a scare, but Newton ends up having the last laugh, orchestrating a 4th quarter drive to put Carolina ahead when it counts.
Week 10: at Steelers – Loss
Pittsburgh’s offense is the kind that will give the Panthers fits, especially when they have to travel for a Thursday night game. Without enough preparation time, the Carolina defense has a rare off night.
Week 11: at Lions – Win
This week, the Panthers have a little extra time to prepare and it ends up paying off. The Carolina defense keeps the Lions under wraps for most of the game and then does enough to hold on late and avoid a 4th quarter collapse.
Week 12: vs Seahawks – Win
An early start time on the east coast is a tough ask for the Seahawks. The Seattle defense is just a half step behind Newton and the Panthers all day long, enabling Carolina to win by a comfortable margin.
Week 13: at Buccaneers – Loss
The Bucs are not quite as bad as they were a year ago. The Panthers get a little overconfident and end up having an off day in Tampa, a devastating loss ahead of the stretch run.
Week 14: at Browns – Win
After last week’s loss, the Panthers aren’t going to overlook the Browns. Once again, the Carolina defense comes to play on the road, getting the Panthers back on track ahead of a tough three-game stretch to end the season.
Week 15: vs Saints – Win
The Panthers have been waiting a long time to get some redemption against the Saints after losing to them thrice last season. On a Monday night at home, the Panthers aren’t going to let that opportunity slip away, as their defense is all over Drew Brees in a huge win.
Week 16: vs Falcons – Loss
After their win over the Saints, the Panthers can’t avoid a letdown, even in another must-win divisional matchup with the Falcons. The Atlanta offense proves to be too much for the Panthers for the second time this year.
Week 17: at Saints – Loss
Two weeks having their way with the Saints, the Panthers can’t replicate that success when they travel to New Orleans. Newton has his worst game of the season, causing the Panthers to drop two straight to finish the season, potentially costing them a playoff spot.