The 2020 season is the beginning of a new chapter for the Panthers franchise with a new coach, staff, and a new quarterback the Panthers will look to quickly turn things around after a disappointing 2019 season.
Matt Rhule is the new head coach going into his first season as an NFL head coach. He previously was the head coach for the Baylor Bears and led them to an 11 win season and Big 12 championship game appearance against Oklahoma in 2019. So far, he has been praised by his new players for his consistency and attention to detail. His staff includes his defensive coordinator from Baylor Phil Snow. Snow will look to improve the Carolina defense despite losing all-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly among others. The defense will return to a 4-3 look after running mostly a 3-4 in 2019. The offensive coordinator will be Joe Brady who was the passing game coordinator for the National Champion LSU Tigers in 2019.
Starting at linebacker this year Tahir Whitehead has the difficult job of replacing Kuechly along with Shaq Thompson. The secondary is almost completely new except for Trey Boston at safety. Justin Burris a free agent signee from the Cleveland Browns and will join Boston at safety. At corner Donte Jackson returns and is joined by 4th round draft pick Troy Pride jr. Eli apple was also brought in during free agency, but he will start the season on IR. As for the defensive line, the unit looks solid on paper with Kawaan Short returning and being joined by 1st round pick Derek Brown in the middle. On the ends Carolina has 2 very explosive youngsters, Brian burns and 2nd rounder Yetur Gross-Matos and both have very high ceilings and should be exciting to watch for years to come.
The offense is also in transition, but has some promising options at receiver. DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel return and are joined by another free agent signee Robbie Anderson. Robbie had a good year last year with the New York Jets. Teddy Bridgewater is the new QB1 and has the tall task of replacing Cam Newton who was surprisingly released earlier this year. The Panthers appear to be set at running back however with Christian McCaffrey returning and being backed up by Mike Davis, a former USC Gamecock. The offensive line will look to improve on a shaky 2019 as Matt Paradis is back at center and Taylor Moton is back at right tackle. The Panthers also traded pro-bowler Trai Turner for a new left tackle, Russell Okung, a former pro bowle. The guards are a bit questionable, but I’m going to project that Dennis Dailey (another former gamecock) will start at right guard and John Miller or Michael Schofield will start on the left (2 more free agent signees). At tight end there is a huge hole left by Greg Olsen, but Chris Manhertz and Ian Thomas should be serviceable options.
Projections (First 8 games)
Now for my season projections, I believe and hope that Carolina will start off strong with a win this Sunday against the Raiders to start off the Teddy Bridgewater/Matt Rhule era with a win. After that, 2 tough road games against the Buccaneers and Chargers will drop the panthers record to 1-2. The next week the Panthers return home and face the Arizona Cardinals and I think they find a way to win that game and get back to .500 at 2-2. Week 5 the Panthers travel to Atlanta to face a tough Falcons team, I see them dropping this one as well so they now sit at 2-3. The Chicago Bears then travel to Charlotte week 6 and this is another tough one for Carolina. I think it will be close, but the Bears defense will just be too much so the Panthers fall to 2-4. Another week and another tough matchup for Carolina, they travel to New Orleans to face a loaded and hungry Saints team. Drew Brees and co. will be too much for Carolina’s young secondary, dropping their record to 2-5. The next week will be a Thursday night home rematch with Atlanta. The panthers find a way to get a win over their rivals to end a 3 game losing streak and improve to 3-5 at the halfway point of the season.
Projections (Next 6 games)
The final 8 games on the schedule won’t be any easier however starting off week 9 at the defending Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. This one is easy to pick, Kansas City is just too good. The Panthers fall to 3-6 and at this point it is almost apparent that the team won’t make the playoffs, but should still finish the season looking to improve. Week 10 Tampa comes to town and I’m going to pick Carolina in an upset win over Tom Brady and the Bucs. The Panthers find a way to get their first consecutive wins of the season with a win next week against the Detroit Lions. The Panthers are now sitting at 5-6 and still technically in the playoff race. However, the next week is a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota and a date with the Vikings. We will not win this game and fall to 5-7. The Panthers finally get a bye in week 13. After a week off to regroup the Denver Broncos visit Bank of America Stadium and Carolina wins this one. Now all the “experts” are looking at the Panthers and eating their words. The Panthers are now 6-7 and still in the playoff hunt. Week 14 will be another tough matchup, at Green Bay in mid December. The Packers offense will just be too much for Teddy and co. to keep up with so the Panthers drop another one and are now almost certainly eliminated from the playoff race at 6-8.
Projections (Final 2 games)
With only 2 games left and their playoff hopes almost completely gone the Panthers will welcome the Washington Football Team to Charlotte. Some familiar faces in Ron Rivera, who is now the head coach in Washington, and also Kyle Allen who was traded to Washington this year may be starting at quarterback for “The Football Team” at this point in the season. This will be a tough out, but the Panthers find a way to get the home victory and their record is not bad sitting at 7-8 with one home game remaining against the Saints. However, New Orleans will be resting their starters as they have already locked up their playoff spot. The Panthers shock the Saints and will end the season on a high note finishing 8-8 and narrowly missing the playoffs.
I am very optimistic about this season and 8-8 would be a very respectable record given all the turnover this team has experienced. Teddy Bridgewater should be a top 15 QB and the 3 receivers mentioned earlier will have great seasons. McCaffrey will continue to be his all-pro self and the offense should have a productive season. The young defense will struggle at times, but should improve as the season goes on. An 8-8 record should give all Panthers fans hope for a brighter future. Keep Pounding Panthers fans, this won’t be our year, but should be an indication of the positive direction I believe the franchise is going in.