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NFL Team Previews: Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have great upside to 2019 but they do play in a tough division where right now, they are probably the third best team and the Buccaneers are not too far behind.

2018 Season Review: 7-9 (3rd in NFC South)

The Panthers started out very hot, getting out to a 6-2 start before going into a Week 10 Thursday Night football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Well they got fucking smoked 52-21 and their season never recovered. They only won on game the rest of the way, and that was against a Saints team that was sitting players in Week 17.

The reason for the downfall was an injury to Cam Newtons shoulder that he tried to play through. It’s unsure of when Cam actually hurt his shoulder, or when he noticed he didn’t have the arm strength that he used to but it played a huge part in the Panthers going 7-9. Cam’s statistics really took a dive in the final three games he played. Against Tampa Bay he did throw for 300 yards but he had two INTs. The next week at Cleveland he threw for 265 yards, but for no TDs and 1 INT. He also only had a completion percentage of 61.9%. The following week at home against New Orleans, he threw for only 131 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, and had a 55.17% completion percentage. Overall Cam threw for 3,395 yards, 24 TDs, 13 INTs with a 67.9% completion percentage. He also ran for 488 yards and 4 TDs.

The highlight for the Panthers on offense was second year back Christian McCaffrey who had 1,098 yards rushing and 7 TDS, and caught another 107 balls for 867 yards and 6 TDs. Overall McCaffrey led this team in rushing and receiving, which is an amazing feat but also says something about the Panthers receiving core.

First of all, rookie D.J. Moore was the only real receiving threat to play all 16 games. Curtis Samuel missed three games, Devin Funchess missed two games, Torrey Smith missed 5 games, and Greg Olsen only played in nine games. D.J. Moor led those guys with 788 yards receiving on 55 catches, but only two TDs to show for it.

Overall the Panthers averaged 23.5 PPG which was tied for 14th in the league, they averaged 373.3 yards per game with 239.8 of those yards through the air, and 133.5 through the ground. Both of those stats were right in the middle of the league.

On defense, the Panthers dropped off in one statistic in a huge way: they only had 35 sacks all year which was 27th in the league. Mario Addison had 9.0 sacks for the third year in a row, and then 38 year old Julius Peppers came in second with 5.0 on the team. In 2017, this team put up 50 sacks with Peppers and Addison both getting double digit sacks, and Kawann Short coming in with 7.5. They severely lacked a pass rush in 2018.

The defense forced 23 turnovers (13 INTs & 10 FR) against the offense giving the ball up 22 times. The +1 differential was tied for 15th in the league. Their defense also gave up 23.9 PPG which was 19th in the league, and un characteristic of a team that in the past has had some very good defenses. They weren’t really awful against the pass, or awful against the run. The Panthers defense was just average at best against both.

They did have some bright individual play though. We already mentioned McCaffrey breaking out but two other young guys showed some promise: rookies D.J. Moore and Donte Jackson. Jackson was a bit streaky at CB but he showed signs of being a very good CB in this league. The Panthers are expecting him to make a big jump in 2019.

Overall it was a disappointing 2018 season for the Panthers that was done in due to an injury to their franchise QB. Going into 2019 the Panthers needed to address a few things, most notably their offensive line and pass rush.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

C Matt Paradis (3 years, $27 million)

Paradis comes in to replace long time center Matt Kalil, and those are some big shoes to fill. Paradis has been in the league for four years and didn’t miss a start from 2015 till the ninth game this year where he broke his leg. Ron Rivera expects Paradis to come in and be a leader right away.

DT Gerald McCoy (1 year, $8 million)

DT wasn’t necessarily a huge need for the Panthers but when a guy like McCoy is available, you take your chances. McCoy got let go from Tampa Bay and he chose to go to a division rival. Don’t let the fact that McCoy got let go, and the size of this contract fool you – McCoy is still a very good player. The Panthers DL got a huge upgrade with him.

DE Bruce Irvin (1 year, $4 million)

Since helping Seattle win a Super Bowl Irvin has bounced around from Oakland, to Atlanta, and now to Carolina. He’s not a stud by any means but has shown he can get after the QB. The Panthers will ask him to fill part of the hole that Julius Peppers left.

2019 Draft

Round 1 Pick #16: DE Brian Burns

More so than Irvin, Brian Burns was drafted to be the new pass rushing specialist in Carolina. Burns had 10 sacks, 2 tackles, and 15.5 TFL in 12 games last year for the Seminoles. The talk on Burns coming into the draft was an elite pass rusher, with great speed and a quick first step that can get around any tackle. The knock on him, was if he can play in the run game. He’ll find out quickly but Burns and Irvin should be the two starters at DE for Carolina.

Round 2 Pick #27: OT Greg Little

Even though Matt Kalil missed all of last year, Taylor Moton filled in well for him. Even so, the Panthers traded up to take Little as their LT of the future. Like many teams in this years draft, the Panthers got a Round 1 talent in the second round on the OL. Little will compete for the starting spot and if everything goes as planned, he should be the starter in Week 1.

Key Off Season Departures

OLB Thomas Davis (via free agency to the Los Angeles Chargers)

Davis played 13 seasons with Panthers, and only missed one due to a knee injury. He played in 12 games last year and had 79 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries. He is on the back end of his career so the Panthers decided to let him walk. He was a leader on this team so they have big shoes to fill with his departure.

WR Devin Funchess (via free agency to the Indianapolis Colts)

Funchess was is a converted WR after he played TE* in college at Michigan. He never splashed and broke out like the Panthers thought he would. He did have 840 yards and 8 TDs in 2017, but in 2018 he only managed 549 yards and 4 TDs in 14 games. It’s no surprise they let him walk. Greg Olsen is still here, but the Panthers will have t o find another big red zone target for Cam Newton.

OT Matt Kalil (via free agency to the Houston Texans)

Matt Kalil was selected to a Pro Bowl his rookie year in Minnesota but he never got back to one. He played five years in Minnesota before being placed on IR in 2016 and then signing with the Panthers the following year. He signed a huge 5 year, $55 million contract in 2017 with the Panthers but only played one full year. In September of 2018 he was put on IR after a knee scope and released earlier this year. He’ll be playing for the Texans next season.

C Ryan Kalil (retired)

Kalil was with the Panthers his whole career and was a five time pro bowler. He was regarded as one of the best centers in the league and he’s a big loss for the Panthers. They did find his replacement in Matt Paradis however.

DE Julius Peppers (retired)

One of the all time pass rushers and 1st ballot Hall of Famers decided to finally call it quits. Peppers obviously wasn’t a top tier pass rusher in 2018 at his age but he still got the job done, was a leader in the locker room, and a staple for the Panthers for a very long time. Remember, this guy played in the 2003 Super Bowl against the Patriots. Peppers finished his career with 159.5 sacks, playing three season with Green Bay, four seasons with Chicago, and two stints with the Panthers that lasted 10 seasons.

2019 Preview

Carolina and Atlanta are very similar teams to me coming into 2019. They both had disappointing 2018’s but coming into 2019 they both have very good defenses, Pro Bowl QBs, good coaching, and good weapons on offense.

For the Panthers, they have some more questions on offense however. First off Cam Newton is coming off of arthroscopic surgery on his should in January. Will he be back full healthy by Week 1, and will he have any rust. If he’s healthy all of last year, the Panthers are probably making the playoffs. If Cam Newton is fully healthy, obviously this team is going to be contending for the playoffs.

There’s still more questions on offense for the Panthers though. Not only is Cam coming off a season where he was shut down, start TE Greg Olsen had surgery on his foot in December, and OT Daryl Williams played only game last year before suffering a knee injury. Between those two and Cam, those are three huge parts of Carolina’s offense that need to get back into the swing of things. Olsen may be the most risky, he’s dealt with this foot injury for years and is on the last leg of his career.

The other questions for the Panthers come on their offensive line. Matt and Ryan Kalil are both gone. They’ve replaced those guys with Matt Paradis and rookie second round pick Greg Little who will probably start over Taylor Moton. Will those guys be able to gel together to protect Cam Newton and open holes for Christian McCaffrey. How much can McCaffrey handle and how much help is he going to get? After Cams injury, McCaffrey seemed like the only guy who could score for the Panthers.

The WR corps is young at the top, but also filled with solid veterans. D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are two WRs Panthers fans want to break out. Behind them the Panthers have guys like deep threat Torrey Smith, Chris Hogan, and Jarius Wright. It’s a solid group, but nobody there scares you from an opposing team. The Panthers need these guys to step up to help take the pressure off of McCaffery and Cam.

As far as the defense goes, the Panthers should be in the top half of the league. They are pretty loaded with guys at every level, especially up front. The’ll have McCoy, Donatri Poe, and Kawann Short up front. On the edge they have newcomers in Bruce Irvin, Brian Burns, and Mario Addison whose had nine sacks each of the last three seasons. On the back end Donte Jackson is turning into one of the best CBs in the league, and then obviously you have Luke Kuechly in the middle.

The Panthers defense doesn’t have many holes but they will have some question at CB. Jackson is great and James Bradberry is solid but after that who do they have at CB? Safety is similar, Eric Reid has one spot locked up but the other safety position is up for grabs. If there is anywhere offenses will be able to attack, it will be here. Oh, and the Panthers play in a division with Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley.

The Panthers have great upside to 2019 but they do play in a tough division where right now, they are probably the third best team and the Buccaneers are not too far behind. The Panthers will have to navigate a schedule that on paper, based off of 2018 doesn’t look so bad.

Schedule

The NFC South plays the AFC South and NFC West this year. They also play the other two NFC teams that finished third in their division, so they get the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins.

Pretty standard schedule here for the Panthers, although they don’t have as many prime time games I thought they’d get. They only have one, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2 on Thursday Night Football. Their division games are spread out, although they do play the Falcons twice in a four week stretch. They open and end the season with the two NFC Championship participants from last year in the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.

Not really much to look at here. As far as previous year records go, the Panthers have a favorable schedule. They play the Rams in Week 1 but other than that they don’t play any teams that really scare you too much till the Saints in Week 12 based off of last years records. They should have a chance to get off to a fast start. Carolina’s bye week falls during Week 7.

Fantasy Player You Want

Going with Curtis Samuel here. Samuel was hurt for most of his rookie year in 2017 and played in 13 games last year. With Devin Funchess gone, there are some targets to go around. Samuel played better as the year went on and was averaging 4 catches for 59.6 yards in his final five games. I think he can build on that and become a very solid WR3/FLEX in fantasy.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

Greg Olsen. Although he’s Mr. Reliable for Cam Newton, I’m not sure how much he has left in the tank to be a TE1. I don’t mind streaming him for a week or two but I won’t want Olsen has my TE1.

Ceiling

Just like the Falcons the Panthers are a team that is used to the post season and had a down year. They obviously have to play in a very tough division that’s almost impossible to go unscathed in. I could see the Panthers winning 11 games.

Floor

Questions on the OL. Will the WR corps step up. How healthy is Cam going to be? Those are the things that could derail this team and make them miss the playoffs again. I don’t see much regression if they do, so I’ll say this team wins at least 6 games.

via Panthers.com
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