If you couldn’t tell by my Casual Fan Previews, I don’t watch a lot of football outside of my team. So get ready for a ton of Carolina Panthers coverage from me this year. And I’ll start with five bold regular season predictions for the upcoming season.
1. Panthers win the NFC South. Again
This isn’t all that bold considering the way they ran away with the division last year. But prior to 2014, no team had won the NFC South in back-to-back years. Now, the Panthers have won it three straight years and seem poised to win it again. The Buccaneers are supposedly better, but it’s tough to see them improving by five wins unless Jameis Winston makes a huge leap. The Saints are still terrible defensively. The Falcons are the biggest threat, but their defense is still questionable. The Panthers are strong on both sides of the ball and could possibly sweep the division. They won’t go 15-1, but they’ll win 11-12 games, which will be enough for the division crown.
2. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen go over 1,000 yards
They did it two years ago in Kelvin’s rookie season, and I see no reason why they can’t do it again. Olsen is as reliable as they come from the tight end spot and Kelvin was poised for a big year last season before the ACL injury. With Newton’s improvement as a passer and the wide open style of the Carolina offense, there’s no reason why these two shouldn’t be over 1,000 yards. Don’t be surprised if Devin Funchess goes over 750 yards as well.
3. Cameron Artis-Payne gets 100+ carries
As a rookie Artis-Payne got 45 carries, with 24 of those carries coming in two games in which Jonathan Stewart sat out. Ron Rivera and staff know how important Stewart is to the offense, and they also know how injury prone he is. They’ll want to keep him healthy for the playoff run, which means CAP will see a lot more carries. He looked strong in the pre-season and seems to know the protection schemes better, which means he’ll be able to stay on the field more. The Panthers unleashed the duo of Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in years past, look for Double Trouble 2.0 to do work this year.
4. The Defense remains in the Top 10
Everyone is freaking out about the loss of Josh Norman and how the Panthers will be starting two rookie corners, but I’m not concerned. I’ll be freaking out when Trevor Siemian throws for 400 yards tonight, but for now, I’m not concerned. I know there will be growing pains with two rookie corners, but at the end of the season, the team will be stronger for it. There’s also the fact that the front seven is quite possibly the strongest group in the league. Luke Keuchly and Thomas Davis are still monsters, Shaq Thompson is poised for a big sophomore season, Kwann Short and Star Lotulelei are strong in the middle, Kony Ely was strong at the end of the year, and Charles Davis remains consistent. The secondary will struggle at times, but they’ll also feast on pressured throws and turn some heads by the end of the year.
5. Cam Newton has 50+ total touchdowns
He finished with 45 last year. 35 passing, 10 rushing. I think he hits 50 this year. He’ll continue to rack up rushing touchdowns from inside the 10 and with the return of Kelvin, he gets a huge redzone threat back. The Panthers had the top offense in the league last year and there’s no reason to think that they can’t put up huge numbers once again.