Every season the BSO staff does an NFL prediction post to kick off the season. Judging from what I had seen during the Carolina Panthers training camp, I predicted that the team would go 11-5 but would still clinch the NFC South division over the Atlanta Falcons; predicted to finish at 10-6.
That almost happened; the Falcons bested the Panthers in the final regular season game to move to 10-6 on the season as Carolina dropped to 11-5. One team that I hadn’t considered in the NFC South race was the New Orleans Saints.
In order to win the NFC South, the Panthers needed a Saints loss coupled with a win over the Falcons. Having beat the Falcons in Charlotte, the Panthers certainly know the recipe for victory against Julio Jones and the crew.
However, this Carolina offense has suffered from an identity crisis most of the season and has relied on a staunch defensive unit to keep them afloat. Many fans had become hopeful as of late as the Panthers won 7 of the last 8 games coming into Sunday’s showdown. Despite losing Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd for the season, not having Greg Olsen for much of the season, and trading Kelvin Benjamin, it looked like the Panthers had found their stride.
I liken this optimism to wearing rose-colored glasses. Sure the team was winning, but the offense still struggled to find its tempo. The difference in whether the Panthers won or lost lied solely with the defense. It’s not enough to stop the other team (the defense held the potent Falcons offense to one touchdown), Carolina’s defense has been looked upon to all but put the offense into the endzone. The win streak came about when the defense was able to force turnovers.
If Cam and Co. hope to be playing into February, they’re going to need to put some points on the board. Now that match-ups are set, the Panthers will venture down to The Big Easy to face the Saints a third time this season. The Saints won both regular season contests behind a potent running back tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Keys to a Panther win will be:
- Christian McCaffrey ; when he’s used as a slot receiver, he’s far more productive.
- Healthy Jonathan Stewart; someone has to do the heavy lifting and Stewart is a smashmouth back. Stewart was a scratch from the Falcons game citing back tightness.
- Effective run game will open things up across the middle for Greg Olsen and Brian Bersin who have run slant routes pretty well.
- Devin Funchess, who is getting much more attention as WR1, will have to be physical in order to get off the line and use his height in jumpball situations down the field.
- Defensive front four has been great at getting into the backfield and disrupting the quarterback; secondary needs to improve on tighter coverage.
- Cam Newton’s accuracy; highly effective rusher but he needs to improve on overthrowing routes.
- Lastly, the defense needs to cause some turnovers to help this otherwise stagnant offense.
Game time for Panthers-Saints Part 3 is Sunday, January 7 at 4:40 EST.
Flip through the pages to see what Cam Newton and Ron Rivera had to say about the Falcons loss and next week’s playoff challenge. Devin Funchess also weighs in on what’s wrong with Carolina’s offense.