Carolina went 11-5 last season and made the playoffs. The Panthers shot at a Super Bowl looks even brighter in 2018.
Improvement from 2016
Off-the-field headlines? Check. Injuries? Check. An early postseason dropout? Check to that too.
Carolina ticked off quite a few boxes in 2017 that most teams would see as a season ender, but the Panthers still managed to go 11-5 and make the playoffs (even if they did lose in a wild card game to the New Orleans Saints.)
This all came a season after they went a disappointing 6-10 in 2016. Then in the 2017 preseason, Dave Gettleman was released as general manager and Marty Hurney hired as an interim GM, all within a day.
The Panthers comeback last season was, in large part, due to one of the best defenses in the league. The issues Carolina did have on offense came from a lack of bulk at wide receiver.
All of their other needs, they seemed to address in the 2018 draft. Which should help them from losing games they shouldn’t, like a 17-3 loss to the Chicago Bears.
‘The Fastest We’ve Had’
Cam Newton threw for 3,319 yards on 293 completions and 501 attempts for a 58.5 percent completion rating in 2017. He threw 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. But the gap between completions and attempts come from a weak receiving corp.
You know it’s a bad season when your second-highest receiver is running back Christian McCaffrey.
You know it’s a bad season when your second-highest receiver is running back Christian McCaffrey. Not that he can’t be a multi-dimensional player, but Cam needs to tuck it and keep it himself or have a range of options for his aerial game.
Take all that and add it to their solid stable of running backs and a defense that returns a bulk of the unit in 2018, and that’s why Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers’ roster is ‘the fastest we’ve had.’
The Panthers had the second-best rushing defense in the league last season and seventh best in total yards allowed.
While defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was traded to the Buffalo Bills (he only added 1.5 sacks and six solo tackles last season), Carolina’s defense is back and maybe even better. The Panthers drafted former Louisiana State cornerback Donte Jackson and former Tennessee safety Rashaan Gaulden.
The biggest spot on the defense may be that the Panthers no longer have Steven Wilks as defensive coordinator. It’s now Eric Washington, previously the Panthers’ defensive line coach. That gives Carolina two d-coordinators in two years.
A Super Bowl Sleeper
Ron Rivera somehow got the Panthers to bounce back from that 2016 disaster. Despite significant injuries to several key players, the only way is up for the Panthers right now. They made it to the wild card playoff last season and it’s highly likely they’ll go further in 2018. In fact, if you want to pick one sleeper team, go with Carolina. Offense gets you to the Super Bowl, but a defense wins it. And Carolina is strong on both sides of the ball.
Week 1: Sept. 9 vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have won four of their last six season openers. And Dak Prescott is back? No brainer.
Week 2: Sept. 16 at Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta took the W in the last four against Carolina at home.
Week 3: Sept. 23 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals’ thought they were gonna get rid of Marvin Lewis last season. He’s still around and Cam & Carolina are still winners against Cincinnati.
Week 4: Bye Week
Week 5: Oct. 7 vs. New York Giants
The Giants finished last in the NFC East last year and won’t have as big of a turnaround from 2017 to 2018 as Carolina did from 2016 to 2017.
Week 6: Oct. 14 at Washington Redskins
Alex Smith didn’t get to face Carolina in 2017. And the last time he did, it was a Week 10 victory, 20-17. Now he’s gone from Kansas City to the nation’s capital and he has potential at running back and wide receiver. We’re calling an upset.
Week 7: Oct. 21 at Philadelphia Eagles
The Panthers lost by five, 28-23, last season at home. The defending Super Bowl champions are predicted to be great again in 2018 and they just may have a few more of the puzzle pieces put together.
Week 8: Oct. 28 vs. Baltimore Ravens
If Carolina can make it through the season with no losses at home, then Ron Rivera’s squad will exceed most expectations. So if somehow the Panthers beat Dallas in Week 1, or even if they don’t, we feel like this could be a potential week for another home loss.
Week 9: Nov. 4 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston vs. Cam Newton is a great match-up to watch, but Newton has grown up more from his college days than Winston has.
Week 10: Nov. 8 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Somehow Ben Roethlisberger keeps getting older and the Steelers keep being in preseason Super Bowl conversations. There must be something in that city’s steel.
Week 11: Nov. 18 at Detroit Lions
The Lions finished second in the NFC North behind the Green Bay Packers, which makes them basically a winner of most other divisions. This will be a good pre-Thanksgiving watch.
Week 12: Nov. 25 vs. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson vs. Panthers defense. Oh, what a marvel God created in the game of football. Be impressed by this defense (and hope you drafted it for your fantasy team.)
Week 13: Dec. 2 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have the offense, but not the defense. That’s all Carolina.
Week 14: Dec. 9 at Cleveland Browns
These two teams have only faced off five times. The Browns won once, back in 2010 on the legs of Peyton Hillis.
Week 15: Dec. 17 vs. New Orleans Saints
The Panthers lost three times to the Saints last year. But you need a wide receiving corp. against the Saints defense. And in case this is the only blurb you’ve read in this whole preseason prediction piece, the Panthers have a stellar defense this year.
Week 16: Dec. 23 vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Panthers and Falcons split meetings last year. But the bulk of Carolina’s defense returns and it was one of the best in the league last season. At home for Cam Newton & Co., we say keep the split again this year.
Week 17: Dec. 30 at New Orleans Saints
Yes, they’re facing off a second time just two weeks apart, and Drew Brees at home isn’t going to end his season the way he ended Carolina’s last year.