Panthers Preview Capsule
CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-9)
Strengths: QB Cam Newton returns from offseason shoulder injury and TE Greg Olsen is back from broken foot. RB Christian McCaffrey was third in yards from scrimmage in breakout second season and will get more touches in 2019. Offensive line depth is improved. Carolina’s switch to 3-4 defense and addition of McCoy and Burns, first-round pick from Florida State, bolsters solid and experienced front seven loaded with former Pro Bowlers. Panthers were 27th in NFL in sacks last season. Move allows Kawann Short to slide to defensive end. Defensive leader and six-time Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly remains one of game’s top linebackers. K Graham Gano and P Michael Palardy provide stability and make special teams big strength. Coach Ron Rivera now in ninth season.
Weaknesses: Panthers lost experience with departures of Kalil, Davis, Peppers and Munnerlyn. Secondary remains unknown quantity with questions at safety and nickel back. Tre Boston signed in training camp, providing added experience at safety, but he tends to gamble too much. Nickel position remains up for grabs. Carolina hoping LT Daryl Williams can provide protection for Newton’s blind side.
Fantasy Players To Watch: WR Curtis Samuel. Third-year player in line for potential breakout season. Samuel was Carolina’s most explosive player in training camp and Newton’s No. 1 target. Former Ohio State star replaces Funchess in starting lineup playing opposite WR D.J. Moore. Samuel has speed, quickness to score every time he touches ball. Look for him on reverses, too.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl 50-1. Over/under wins 8.
Expectations: Panthers have talent to win NFC South, but much is riding on how Newton’s shoulder holds up. 2015 league MVP has been throwing 50-yard passes, but shoulder weakened as season progressed in 2018. There’s big drop-off from Newton to backups QBs Kyle Allen and rookie Will Grier, who’ve started one NFL game between them.