The Carolina Panthers finished their 2015-16 regular season 15-1, the lone loss was to divisional rival, Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta two weeks after beating them 38-0. To say that the Falcons wanted revenge would be an understatement. No team, especially a division rival wants to be swept and to be the one to play spoiler to an undefeated regular season may have given the Falcons extra motivation.
As the Carolina Panthers enter the 2016-17 season, they do so with a different mind frame than previous seasons. Prior to their 15-1 campaign last year the Panthers were coming off a not so stellar 7-8-1 year, they were able to take the NFC South for a 2nd consecutive season but they did so without any true sense of accomplishment, but now, after losing Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos, then getting attacked from every angle for lack of sportsmanship you got the feeling their approach would be more business-like.
As I glanced over their upcoming schedule I figured maybe 2-3 losses, but at second look, coupled with the maturation of the roster made me realize 16-0 is a very realistic goal. I know every team prepares week to week to win but for the Panthers the only obstacle stopping them, is them.
Here’s a breakdown of their schedule.
Week 1: Panthers@Broncos
The revenge game for the Panthers. Emotions will be running high as they set out to prove that their defeat in February was nothing but a fluke. The one advantage the Panthers will have in their favor is they will be playing against a vet who cannot handle pressure too well or a rookie who has not seen a defense like the Panthers. Panthers win
Week 2: 49ers@Panthers
First home game of the season. Bank of America Stadium will be packed and rocking. The 49ers, whom are expected to be in rebuild mode will be no contest for the best team in the NFC as the Panthers will run away easily with this game. Expect to see Derek Anderson in the 4th quarter. Panthers win.
Week 3: Vikings@Panthers
The Minnesota Vikings are on the up and up but Adrian Peterson will face a stingy Panthers run defense that was 4th in the league. If Cam Newton and his receivers can find a groove against the Vikings secondary this could turn ugly pretty quick. I do not expect Peterson to find any running lanes which will place the burden on the shoulders of Teddy Bridgewater and with those odds, how can you not pick Carolina at home? Panthers win.
Week 4: Panthers@Falcons
The last time these two played the Falcons destroyed the Panthers undefeated season. Carolina will enter this matchup much like Week One’s against the Broncos with revenge on their minds. There will be no Julio Jones and Josh Norman matchup, so look for Jones to have a huge day if Matt Ryan can manage to stay upright long enough to get the ball downfield. The Falcons defense is no match for the NFL’s top scoring team as Jonathan Stewart and Newton will combine for 150+ yards on the ground, leading the Panthers to another victory. Panthers win.
Week 5: Bucs@Panthers
Back-to-back divisional games could be a problem but these are no longer the Panthers of the past. Focus is the key word to this season and no matter the improvements the Bucs have made they are still at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to the NFC South. Jameis Winston had a solid rookie year but 37-23, 38-10 will give you the notion the Panthers are still light years ahead of the Bucs. Panther win.
Week 6: Panthers@Saints
The NFL schedule makers really has it in for the Panthers as they’ve scheduled them three straight division games. This is right before their bye week, games are always tough in New Orleans but with an aging Drew Brees I expect the Panthers defense to have this wrapped up bye the end of the 3rd quarter. Panthers win.
Week 7: Bye
All they can do is beat up on each other in practice.
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Week 8: Cardinals@Panthers
Here is their first real test of the season. The Cardinals boast one of the most experienced rosters in the NFL, but if the Cardinals can’t shake the stinker they put up against the Panthers in the playoffs last season it can get ugly quick, not 49-15 ugly but a leave Charlotte with a loss ugly. Newton and crew will be in mid-season form by now, clicking on all cylinders and their youth will be too much for an aging team to handle. Panthers win.
Week 9: Panthers@Rams
By this time the Rams will have settled into their new home, fans will have been over the hype but now they must deal with the reigning NFC Champs. This is the chance for the Rams to make a statement as they have done so for the past 2-3 seasons. It seems the Rams are the team to spoil hot streaks as they have done the Broncos and Seahawks in the past but the Panthers will not fall for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick.
Week 10: Chiefs@Panthers
By Week 10 we will have a pretty clear indication who this Panthers team really is. I admit they have had a pretty easy schedule, minus a few good teams but have managed to take care of business. The Chiefs, hopefully will be at full strength, if so this may turn out to be a close game. Both defenses has the ability to put the breaks on any offense but the key will be the play of Newton. If Newton is able to scramble, the Chiefs are in trouble. Panthers win.
Week 11: Saints@Panthers
I don’t expect much noise from the Saints this year, but this is still a division game where records mean nothing. The Panther defeated the Saints early in the season and will have no trouble sweeping them. Panthers win.
Week 12: Panthers@Raiders
These are not the Raiders of past seasons. By Week 12 I fully expect the Raiders to either be leading the AFC West or a game behind in prime position for a playoff spot. Derek Carr will have a tough time against the Panthers pass rushers but if he and Amari Cooper can get a few big plays they have a shot. Once again, Newton is the MVP for a reason and I will put my money on him that he will find and expose a weakness in the Raiders suspect secondary during a tight 4th quarter, leading the Panthers to victory. Panthers win.
Week 13: Panthers@Seahawks
In what has quietly become one of the best rivalries in the NFL this game deserve the prime time billing it has received. Last season was a breakthrough as the Panthers were able to beat the Seahawks twice in one year. Newton and Russell Wilson are two of the best QBs in the league but defense will decide this contest. The Panthers may have lost Norman but their front seven will be enough to stop Wilson and the Seahawks. Panthers win.
Week 14: Chargers@Panthers
Philip Rivers and the Chargers will head into Charlotte looking towards the NFL Draft while the Panthers will be riding one of the best wining percentages in NFL history. Newton will play only three-quarters due to a large lead as their high-powered offense will dismantle the Chargers defense. Panthers win.
Week 15: Panthers@Redskins
By Week 15 the Panthers will have a playoff spot locked up, but if last season was any indication of Ron Rivera’s tactics the team will continue towards their march for an undefeated season. The Redskins might have the NFC East already won but would love to play the role of spoiler. The Redskins will look to throw often as their ground game will offer no advantage, giving the Panthers a greenlight to rush the passer, turning Kirk Cousins into a turnover machine. Panthers win.
Week 16: Falcons@Panthers
Can the Falcons do it again for the 2nd straight year? Can they play spoiler to the Panthers quest for an undefeated season? What’s scary for the Panthers is they faced this same Falcons team last year with the same record at the same week and took their first loss of the season. Do not expect a repeat performance from either team as I’m sure what transpired last year will be bulletin-board material for the Panthers. Panther win.
Week 17: Panthers@Bucs
This is it. Can the Panthers follow in the footstep of the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots and finish the season without a loss? The Bucs, even if eliminated from playoff contention will bring everyone out for this game, they may even try to get Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks to suit up for this one. But the firepower and focus of the Panthers will be too much for Tampa Bay to overcome as the Panthers head into the Playoffs with their place firmly cemented in history.