Carolina panthers 2019 season preview
By Steve Moore
Riverboat Ron heads into his ninth season in charge of the Carolina Panthers on the back of a 7-9 season that was somewhat unfairly boosted by a week 17 win over New Orleans – a Saints side that should really be called the New Orleans Backups. Mind you, Kyle Allen looked a better QB than Teddy Bridgwater that day so there is that…
A Panthers loss that day would have meant a second 6-10 record in the three years since the ‘Riverboat’ Ron tag became a thing and Cam Newton was Superman-ing all the way to Super Bowl 50. It leaves Rivera possibly needing a winning season to avoid talk beginning about the safety of his job. That might actually work in his favour seeing as the last time his job security was questioned was when he then went 15-1 to make the Super Bowl.
It will be a new era of Panthers that will be doing it as some of the most recognisable faces of the franchise have moved on. There will be no Thomas Davis at linebacker, no Captain Munnerlyn at corner and no Ryan Kalil at centre.
The retirement of Kalil will be the biggest loss of all. Outside of injury, he has been the starting centre for Cam Newton’s entire pro career and his replacement, Matt Paradis, is coming off a broken fibula, so is an injury concern himself. That is without going into the intangibles of Kalil’s status and leadership in the locker room and his connection with Cam Newton.
They added Bruce Irvin in free agency and Brian Burns in the first round of the draft to produce one of the strongest defensive lines they have had since the Super Bowl season. Snagging McCoy after his release from the Buccaneers just improves that depth even further. They also drafted Greg Little to be a starting offensive lineman, but the jury is still out on the level we can expect from him this year.
What the Panthers still have is possibly the most dynamic offensive weapon in the NFC in Christian McCaffrey, who is coming off the back of a second-team All-Pro year. It’s not just the votes of sportswriters either, the stats are eye-popping. Almost 2,000 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns, he has basically replaced Cam Newton as the Panthers ‘Swiss Army Knife’.
This offense isn’t just the CMC show though. Second & third-year receivers DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel are perfect downfield threats for an ‘Air Coryell’ disciple like Norv Turner. But for everything good about the Panthers offense, it will all boil back to Cam Newton’s shoulder.
December 2nd, 2018 was the day the Panthers admitted that Newton literally could not do his job as a QB. It could be dressed up however you want it to be but the fact that they sent out Taylor Heinicke to throw the Hail-Mary at the end of the game showed that in a downfield offense like Norv Turner’s, Newton was incapable of making the throws required.
That might have been before shoulder surgery, but there is no certainty that the shoulder will be the same as it was beforehand and if the offense is not firing because Newton is unable to stretch the field? Then do not be surprised if Will Grier becomes the Panthers starting QB.
A lot of pressure will fall on that offensive line either way because whether it is protecting the franchise QB or the rookie, they need to be better. It may be tough early in the season, but they will hope to gel as the year wears on. The level of success could entirely depend on how Little progresses this preseason.
At least there is Luke Kuechly and that defense though. It is a unit that could well be improved as well. They may have lost Thomas Davis, but he was almost backing up Shaq Thompson by the end of last year. With the former first-round pick in a contract year, Thompson could have a breakout year alongside Kuechly. Used aggressively he will also benefit from a much improved defensive front.
Not only have they added Irvin and Burns but Panthers fans will be extremely excited to see what creative things that Eric Washington can do with McCoy after so many years of having to worry about him on the opposite sideline twice a year.
So it leaves one question. Unless Newton is back to his 2015 levels, can McCaffrey score more points than a possible top-ten defense concede? I think we all know the answer to that one. The real question will be whether the Riverboat stays on the river in 2020.
Record Prediction: 5-11
Image credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports