With the 2019 season getting closer and closer, the excitement of how far a new version of the Carolina Panthers can go kicks in.
Cam Newton should be healthy by the season’s start, Christian McCaffrey is ridiculous, the development of Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore is enticing, the offensive line has a couple of upgrades, and the pass rush has been improved as well.
So as we wait patiently for All or Nothing to drop so we can binge it next week, let’s take a look at every opponent the Panthers play outside of their division – talking about the Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints twice seems redundant so I’m not going to do that.
Week 1 vs. Los Angeles Rams
At the outset, the Panthers are at home against the defending NFC Champions. And though they hold that title, this actually feels like a winnable game for the Panthers.
Sean McVay may be the greatest offensive mind in the game. He’s turned Jared Goff, who was on a collision course with being a draft bust, to a two-time Pro Bowler – and has implanted a system that has enhanced the abilities of Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and the rest of the offense.
Facing the best defensive player in the league, Aaron Donald, will be a worthy first test for Matt Paradis and the new look Panthers interior offensive line. On the flip side, the loss of prized guard Rodger Saffold exposes an opening that the Panthers’ defensive front could very well expose. Goff’s play under pressure is a massive decline in quality from his play when kept clean, especially compared to his peers, and this Panthers pass rush could be talented enough to present that.
On the flip side, the defensive talent doesn’t really scare me much from a Carolina perspective. The Rams’ starters are getting up there in age – though the team compensated for that in the draft, addressing those needs for the future – and this could be a game where Moore and McCaffrey have big showings, as the front seven minus Donald could use a test itself. This will be an opportune time to get Samuel involved as he looks to have untapped potential against man and press coverage.
Right away we’ll know how good this Panthers team can become, and I’m anxious to see Week 1 arrive as a result.
Week 3 at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals offense has plenty of big names, including rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, who was my favorite of the QB prospects in the 2019 draft. Height be damned, Murray’s deep passing accuracy, stunning arm talent, and world class mobility have the makings of a star in the NFL.
Rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury was tied to Murray for a while and the two reunited with the first overall pick. Built around Murray is a group of skill players including David Johnson, ol’ reliable Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, rookies Hakeem Butler and Andy Isabella, and forgotten first round pick Kevin White. That’s an upgrade in talent over the previous season, but I expect some bumps for this group early on.
The offensive line doesn’t look like it’ll be any good, but the Panthers should watch out for Kingsbury’s scheme, as he comes from a style that elevates blocking with zone reads and option plays. The defense includes the stellar Chandler Jones as well free agent signings including Terrell Suggs, Jordan Hicks and Robert Alford. It’s certainly a group of new names, but if the Panthers line is up to the challenge, I think it can be salvaged.
Really, the key will be shutting down Murray, which would be easier said than done if not for the fact that this will likely be only the third start of his career. It takes rookies a while to get some steam going in the NFL, so perhaps this will benefit the Panthers defense.
Week 4 at Houston Texans
Could this be the game a Panthers pass rush feasts on a weak offensive line that’s made some underwhelming moves on paper? Perhaps!
After two seasons in the league, quarterback Deshaun Watson has developed into a very good starter who still has both room and time to grow. One can’t help but be captivated by his ability to keep plays alive, and there’s little doubt he was dragging a terrible offensive line to the postseason after an 0-3 start in 2018. DeAndre Hopkins is also a special player, pairing up beautifully with Watson’s thrilling deep passing display – and Will Fuller is a talented vertical threat that just needs to stay healthy to have an explosive season. Keke Coutee is a fan favorite as well.
The Texans pass rush provides a challenge for the Panthers’ pass protection, being made up of the dominant J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney as well as a solid group of role players. The secondary has also received a complete makeover, with new faces including Tashaun Gipson, Bradley Roby, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. All three players join safety Justin Reid, who had a quality season as a rookie.
This is a game where the Panthers pass rush should have little trouble in generating pressure against a turnstile offensive line, but the Carolina secondary is in for a fight against Hopkins, Fuller, and Coutee at receiver. i wouldn’t be surprised if this resulted in a shootout between the two teams.
Up next: We Wish Blake Bortles Was Still A Thing