Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin has converted 41-percent of his red zone targets into touchdowns during his first two NFL seasons
The Carolina Panthers suffered a classic Super Bowl curse in 2016, falling from 15 wins to a humble 6-10 record which tied Ron Rivera’s low since taking over in 2011. The team knew it had to focus their efforts on offense and the O-Line, run game and receiver corps each received high-caliber injections of talent. If Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel can live up to their billing, we should see a significant jump from a group that ranked 25th overall in 2016.
Matt Kalil was signed to anchor an O-Line that was 17th in pass protection and 31st in run blocking. Second round pick Taylor Morton adds youth and versatility to the front and with four years experience as a starter in college, Morton provides instant depth. The holes for McCaffrey and incumbent RB Jonathan Stewart should definitely get wider this season.
Carolina has a new D-Co in Steve Wilks, following Sean McDermott’s departure to Buffalo. A Charlotte native, Wilks worked with HC Rivera in Chicago and San Diego before joining the Panthers in 2012. His specialty is with defensive backs but Wilks was also Rivera’s assistant head coach the past two seasons. He has a great deal of respect from the players and a firm grasp on McDermott’s system, which isn’t expected to change much.
Panther DBs have logged a ton of interceptions during Wilks’ tenure and led the NFL in 2015 with 24. They’ll look to regain that title as CB James Bradberry and Daryl Worley return for a second season. The safety position is solid with Mike Adams and Kurt Coleman projected to start but they’ll need to improve on YAC yards, which was 27th in 2016. Boom-or-bust against ten teams that ranked in the top-half for passing resulted in a 3-7 SU and 2-7-1 ATS record for the Panthers last season.
LAST YEAR’S RECORD & 2017 NFL FUTURES
Win-Loss: 6-10 SU and 6-9-1 ATS
Over/Under: 6-9-1 O/U
Noteworthy: The Panthers record in 2016 vs. playoff bound teams was 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS. Three of the five losses were by 15 points or more. By contrast, Carolina was 6-1 SU/ATS against playoff teams in 2015. That list included convincing playoff wins over Seattle and Arizona, the only loss coming against Denver in the Super Bowl.
Carolina plays eight games this season against teams that finished 2016 with a winning record. Newton’s career record against this type of foe is 28-16 ATS (64-percent) with 25 overs, 16 unders and a few pushes. They also play seven games against teams that allowed more than 110 rush yards per game. That’s positive news for r-RB McCaffrey, who rushed for 3,922 yards along with 1,206 receiving yards in just three years at Stanford.
PANTHERS BOTTOM LINE: THE THIN LINE
Carolina lost six games by three points or less in 2016, including three divisional matches. Their sub-.500 will earn Panther backers some points on the road and you might want to circle matchups in Week 5 (Lions) and 8 (Bucs). Small road dogs in this spot have a 64-percent record against the spread with no losing seasons since 2004. Carolina’s defense is sound and contrary to popular belief, we don’t think Rivera has lost the handle on this team. If the Panthers offense starts to gel and they come out on top of a few more close games, look for this team to be in the NFC South mix come December.