Carolina Panthers: 2018 NFL Season Preview

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Welcome to our NFL season preview specials. Over the course of August, we'll be taking a look at every single team in the National Football League and how they're shaping up before the start of the new season.

Yesterday's preview saw us take a look at a Baltimore Ravens side that is entering 2018 off the back of final day playoff-heartbreak and have finally brought in someone that can push Joe Flacco on the quarterback depth chart in Lamar Jackson. Check that out here.

Today it's the turn of a team who finished 11-5 in 2017 but lost in the Wildcard round. How are the Carolina Panthers looking now? Well, let's find out...

2017 Recap

Just taking a look at the Panthers schedule from 2017, one wouldn't be amiss to think they were one of the league's top teams last year, with big wins over the Vikings, Falcons, Packers and even picking up a W against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

But things are never easy and a 17-3 loss to the lowly Chicago Bears showed that things weren't perfect in Charlotte.

Still, after finishing 6-10 in 2016, the performances on display last year were very encouraging, with Christian McCaffrey showing he's got that electricity to his game and ending with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints

But the three losses to the Saints, with the last coming in the Divisional Round, were killer blows. That's a big hurdle the Panthers will need to overcome, but the with the Saints seemingly getting stronger, it will be a tough task.

FREE AGENCY MOVES

Veteran running back Jonathan Stewart has moved on and was replaced by the former Denver Bronco rusher CJ Anderson, who looks set to fill Stewart's 1st-down and short-yardage role. Andrew Norwell will certainly be missed on the offensive line after his move to the Jaguars in a $66million deal. The offensive line is a big worry with the two Khalil brothers still there, with center Ryan struggling massively last year with a neck injury while Matt just straight up didn't look good at left tackle. 

The Panthers still haven't properly replaced Josh Norman - Ross Cockerill being his latest would-be replacement - and the secondary isn't in great standing with 37-year-old Mike Adams pairing up at safety with either the very average Da'Norris Searcy or third-round rookie Rashaan Gaulden - who was shouted at by teammates earlier this week for laying out WR Jarius Wright during practice.

He doesn't count as a free agent but the Panthers also have a change in ownership, with David Tepper buying out the under fire Jerry Richardson for $2.2bn. 

DRAFT HAUL

DJ Moore - WR, Maryland. 1st round, 24th overall. 
Donte Jackson - CB, LSU. 2nd round, 55th overall.
Rashaan Gaulden - S, Tennessee. 3rd round, 85th overall.
Ian Thomas - TE, Indiana. 4th round, 101st overall. 
Marquis Haynes - DE, Ole Miss. 4th round, 136th overall. 
Jermaine Carter Jr - LB, Maryland. 5th round, 161st overall. 
Andre Smith - LB, North Carolina. 7th round, 234th overall.
Kendrick Norton - DT, Miami. 7th round, 242nd overall. 

2018 NFL Draft

Fans Eye View

In all our 2018 previews we'll be speaking to a fan to get their opinion on the current state of the team. Representing the Panthers is Thom Barratt from @PanthersUK. Check them out on Twitter and give them a follow. Here are their thoughts...

GMS: How would you rate your team’s offseason?

The consensus amongst fans is that the Draft was yet another success with the addition of a handful of quality pieces the team has been missing, in some cases, for several years. DJ Moore through the Draft is one player we are looking forward to seeing make a splash, as well as the additions of CJ Anderson and Dontari Poe.

New OC Norv Turner remains an unknown entity and there are a few who are unsure whether he is the right person to reignite the offensive fire. And this is all without mentioning the change of ownership!

GMS: What is the general opinion of the job Ron Rivera is doing?

Stability is something the Panthers strive for as an organization, and it appears Ron Rivera’s future in Charlotte is as secure as ever. And why not? He’s a Head Coach who has built much of the backbone of the franchise, has a demanding and controlling grip over the players, and is generally a man the players, fans, and staff can trust. Gone, it seems, are the days of the Riverboat, but left in his place is a coach who oozes optimism.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons

GMS: What are your thoughts on the Panthers offense?

Beyond what is mentioned above concerning the position and roster adjustments we have seen on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, there is a growing sense of optimism amongst fans when eyes are cast to #1.

What seems different this year from the last is that Cam Newton look to have matured 10-fold. He is beginning to understand the importance of the players around him, the importance of the overall team. And Cam is having fun in Training Camp, more than we have ever seen him have before. When Cam has fun, this Offense is gonna gun!

GMS: How are things looking on the defensive side of the ball?

Little needs to be said about the state of the Carolina D. The front line remains as solid as it has ever been. Yet the one question that seems to arise is ‘how long can they remain together, and how long can they remain healthy?’

Luke Kuechly suffers still from occasional concussions, and Thomas Davis and Julius Peppers are unlikely to be padding up for many more seasons. The addition of Donte Jackson gives fans comparisons of Josh Norman, yet the secondary still appears weak. Time will tell.

LSU v Tennessee

GMS: What’s your deepest concern for 2018?

Perhaps one of the deepest concerns this season, and maybe for the seasons to come, will be how relevant the Panthers can remain in the NFC South.

We are in undoubtedly the most competitive division in the NFL at the moment, and with the sharp emergence of the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, and soon, some would imagine, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there is a growing worry that the Panthers are over their 2015 peak, and could well follow Seattle and the New York Giants before them.

GMS: Give us a name to watch out for...

Christian McCaffrey. Though not an unknown quality, look for him to dominate the league this coming season. Norv Turner and Ron Rivera have already hinted at aiming to give him the ball close to double what he had last season, and anybody who has peaked at images of his muscles during the offseason and now during Training Camp can see that he is ready.

Miami Dolphins v Carolina Panthers

We are not just talking standout for the Panthers, we are talking standout across the National Football League. He is a dual-threat Receiver and RB, and opposing teams may very well get torn apart this year.

GMS: And finally...what's your Crystal Ball prediction for the season?

Look for the Panthers go start out strong. A first home game to begin the season since 2013 should wake up the Bank of America crowds early doors. Everything will rest, however, on the divisional run-ins when we get to Christmas, but the Panthers will finish 10-6 and grab a WildCard Playoff spot.

Hoping all things go according to plan, they should reach the Divisional Round, where they will most likely come across a tough team in Philadelphia or Green Bay. Expect the Panthers to fall short here yet again, but with more optimism for the future. #KeepPounding.

2018 Schedule

Week 1: vs Cowboys
Week 2: @ Falcons
Week 3: vs Bengals
Week 4: Bye Week
Week 5: vs Giants
Week 6: @ Redskins
Week 7: @ Eagles
Week 8: vs Ravens
Week 9: vs Bucs
Week 10: @ Steelers
Week 11: @ Lions
Week 12: vs Seahawks
Week 13: @ Bucs
Week 14: @ Browns
Week 15: vs Saints
Week 16: vs Falcons
Week 17: @ Falcons

THE FANTASY OUTLOOK

Cam Newton is a real contender to be the most underrated player heading into drafts this season. After finishing 2017 as the No.2 overall QB, only behind Russell Wilson, fantasy players can pick up Newton in the 7th round as the 6th quarterback off the board.

Christian McCaffrey will need to be better than he was last year to end up being worth his 2.11 ADP. He may have been RB15 last season, but with 6 games of less than six fantasy points he was a big headache for owners. 

I have one favourite Panthers picks for fantasy this year; Greg Olsen. Tight end has been a constant in Norv Turner's offenses and Olsen - if he returns from injury untroubled - will be a big player and his value is extraordinary right now. 

There's hype around DJ Moore but with Devin Funchess around, and Turner's history of RBs/TEs taking lots of targets away from receivers, I doubt he makes much of an impact. Picking up CJ Anderson could prove to be a very smart move.

Wild Card Round - Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints

OUR PREDICTION

The secondary will make or break this team. If Donte Jackson can step up as a rookie, or if the unit gels properly, then they're a real NFC Championship contender. If not, then wildcard disappointment lurks. We're going for a 10-6 finish with Luke Keuchly getting back to his best. 

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