Carolina Panthers 2019 Season Preview
By Robert Jackson
Special to Pro Football Guru
Under David Tepper’s new ownership, the Carolina Panthers got off to a promising 6-2 start in 2018. After one big hit by Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt to Cam Newton’s shoulder, the season went sharply downhill. With the franchise quarterback noticeably struggling, the Panthers dropped seven games in a row and finished a disappointing 7-9. There is reason for optimism in Charlotte this year with healthy Newton, a rising star in Christian McCaffrey, a speedy receiving corps and upgrades to the offensive line. With head coach Ron Rivera continuing the defensive play-calling, Carolina should improve on their below normal ranking of 15th last season.
Offense: It’s all about the shoulder. If Newton can stay healthy all season this is a solid playoff contender. McCaffrey exceeded expectations last year with 1,965 yards from scrimmage and will continue to prosper in 2019. Alex Armah is a serviceable fullback. The Panthers have not one, but two wide receivers who have the potential to breakout – as long as it’s Newton behind center – in D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Free-agent addition Chris Hogan will see plenty of action too. Greg Olsen also needs to stay on the field, avoiding his recurring foot problems. He remains Newton’s security blanket, with Ian Thomas also contributing at tight end. The line should be an upgrade over last year with free agent Matt Paradis at center, four-time Pro Bowler Trae Turner at right guard and second-round pick Greg Little providing depth at tackle.
Defense: A new 3-4 scheme brings a very stout front three. Gerald McCoy parks his six-time Pro Bowl self at one end and underrated Kawann Short mans the other side. Dontari Poe will look to rebound from a subpar 2018. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is another perennial All-Pro, but his long-time partner in crime, Thomas Davis, must be replaced. This is Shaq Thompson’s year to step up and fill that void. Veteran Bruce Irvin brings experience to the linebacker corps. First-round pick Brian Burns is a key off the edge. The pass rush was at times non-existent (27th in the NFL in sacks) last year and Burns has already shown the ability to pressure the passer in preseason. Tre Boston returns to the Panthers will start alongside Eric Reid at safety. Look for cornerback Donte Jackson to emerge in his second year opposite solid James Bradberry. This can be a Top 10 defense.
Special Teams: There are few changes here. Placekicker Graham Gano missed three PATs and the final four games with a knee injury, but it was a memorable season thanks to his game-winning 63-yarder against the Giants. Michael Palardy returns at punter after averaging 45.2 yards per kick in 2018. The kick returner job is still up for grabs.
Prediction: If Newton can make it through the season healthy, the Panthers can be a playoff team. Without a credible backup QB, that’s a huge IF. Under Norv Turner’s tutelage, Newton was making much wiser decisions last season and that looks to continue in 2019. All the pieces are in place for a rebound from 2018’s late-season collapse. However, the NFC South is arguably the toughest division in the NFL, so it won’t be an easy ride. Carolina will have a winning record and could slip in as a Wild Card, but it won’t be enough to unseat the Saints.
Win-Loss Record: 9-7 (3rd, NFC South)
Robert Jackson (@jacksonsportsm) has 21 years of experience in sports as a sponsorship and event marketing professional, involved in over 70 events including five post-season college bowl games. He has also been a contributing writer to several digital sports publications, including USA Today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.