The Panthers never seem to get much love yet they routinely fight into the post season and pull of results when they don’t seem to have played well. The is the hallmark of a good franchise. The NFC South is a tightly packed Division that leaves no room for error…
Reasons to be cheerful?
Christian McCaffrey had 197 touches last season for 1086 yards total. Expect his usage to shoot through the roof after the Panthers traded away Jonathan Stewart to the Giants. 5 receiving TDs will be the minimum from McCaffrey, this would match last seasons output, but I’d expect him to push for double digit TD catches. His usage in the run game depends on how well C.J Anderson (1000 yrd rusher acquired from Denver) fits into the system, but this a dangerous 2 man setup, as good as anything else in the NFL bar the Saints and Vikings.
Greg Olsen is back to full fitness. This is Key as his target share under Newton is high and he provides the safety-valve in all the passing-down situations (he had 3 consecutive 1000 yard seasons before 2017). Last season was the first time he’d missed games since his debut in 2007 for the bears so lets assume his durability is unaffected, the team will be better for having him on the field.
Credit to River Boat Ron. When the chips are down this is a coach who rolls the dice and gets results. He should stick to that mentality throughout this season too, it serves him well.
Reasons to be fearful?
The 12th toughest strength of schedule is a good place to start here, especially within their own division (2 games each against the Falcons and the Saints). They also face the Cinncinati, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Seattle Defenses over the year. Cam has always remained fairly healthy despite taking on a lot of running and subsequently the hits that go with his style, sooner or later is luck maybe just runout against one of the powerful D-Lineups.
Devon Funchess as a great redzone target at WR but im not yet sold on his ability to lead the team with enough yards (1000+) to consistently take them down the field against good backfield units. Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright and newly drafted D.J Moore all need to step up and show what they can do in order for Funchess and Olsen to get away from double coverages.
This defense is excellent and the addition of Poe to replace Lotulelei was a good choice. However, we are only one concussion away from saying goodbye to Luke Kuechly forever and Thomas Davis is suspended for the first 4 games for PED violations. The depth behind these 2 standout players is a concern.
How does the season shape up?
I think I’ll be one of a small number of people to say the Panthers don’t make the post season this time around. The Division works against them, Cam doesn’t have enough good target-men to tie up defences and the defense always looks rudder-less whenever Kuechly misses games. Ron Rivera will keep all the games interesting, the Wildcard will never be quite out of reach but they wont control their own destiny.
Playoffs? They’ll be in the mix until the last couple of weeks, but closing out the season with 2 games v N.O and one to Atlanta could see them crash out of the reckoning.