After going 11-5 in 2017, the Panthers finished 2018 with a 7-9 record straight up and against the spread. To make matters worse, franchise QB Cam Newton missed the final two games of the season and underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his throwing shoulder immediately following the season. For those keeping track, this is his second surgery on the same shoulder following a partially torn rotator cuff surgery in March of 2017. Newton is throwing and looks like he won’t be missing any time, but let’s revisit him once he starts taking some contact.
Newton wasn’t the only one hurt. Olsen missed significant time again for the second straight season, only appearing in 9 games in the 2018 season. Injuries to key players have been an unfortunate recurring event for this team, and hopefully, that trend discontinues. Even with a healthy team, there are flaws, and that’s why their futures odds and win totals are the 3rd best in the division.
Super Bowl Odds: +5000
Odds to Win the NFC: +2500
Odds to Win the NFC South: +635 (Bookmaker)
Season Win Total: 7.5
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|2||Tampa Bay (TNF)||-6||0.71|
|6||Tampa Bay (London)||-2.5||0.55|
|8||@ San Francisco||2.5||0.46|
|10||@ Green Bay||5.5||0.31|
|12||@ New Orleans||9||0.19|
Total Expected Wins: 7.45
It was a busy offseason for the Panthers that kicked off with Thomas Davis signing with the Chargers. Davis had spent his entire 14-year career with the Panthers and was a cornerstone of the Panthers defense alongside Luke Kuechly. Following Davis out the door includes 5 other starters. Corner Captain Munnerlyn, receiver Devin Funchess and 3 offensive linemen (Chris Clark, Matt Kalil, and Ryan Kalil).
To replace starting center Ryan Kalil, the Panthers signed Matt Paradis from the Broncos, who should help keep the Panthers strong run game going. Chris Hogan signed from the Patriots to replace Funchess. The significant addition came recently when former Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy stayed in the same division and signed with the Panthers in early June.
The Panthers addressed a lot of their free agency losses through the draft. In the first round, they took one of the best OLB, Brian Burns from Florida State, to replace Davis. Burns is expected to start immediately and help the pass rush while being able to drop back in coverage when needed. In the 2nd they took OT Greg Little from Ole Miss who will be competing for a starting role following Matt Kalil’s departure.
Aside from adding additional depth across the board on offense, the interesting pick was taking QB Will Grier from West Virginia. Newton has had his health problems and is coming off shoulder surgery, so having a cheap backup with a high ceiling seems like a good insurance policy.
With Newton’s size and scrambling ability and Christian McCaffrey in the backfield, the Panthers led the league with 5.13 yards per rush. McCaffrey avoided the sophomore slump en route to setting the Panthers franchise record for more all-purpose yards in a season with 1,965. The Panthers ended the season with 11th best offense according to offensive DVOA. Doesn’t seem too bad, but considering they faced the easiest schedule of opposing defenses, their numbers should have been better, especially in the passing game. They only had the 19th best QB Rating and only threw for 6.81 yards per attempt, good for 17th in the league. The other “poor” statistic for this offense was the fact that their leading receiver was McCaffrey (867 yards).
For 2019, they will look to continue their run game, but if they want to go over their win total and make a run at the playoffs, the Panthers will need to throw the ball down the field with more success. TE Greg Olsen did miss 7 games last season and is a favorite target of Newton, but the team’s top wide receiver, DJ Moore, only had 55 receptions on 82 targets. Despite having a career best in completion percentage (67.9% compared to previous personal best 61.7%), Newton must improve his accuracy downfield and not rely on his legs to bail him out. Things look good from minicamps so far following his surgery, but let’s see how Cam does once the hits start coming.
After ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency according to DVOA for 3 straight years, the Panthers defense dropped to 22nd. They struggled against the run and the pass while not pressuring the quarterback (not exactly a winning recipe). They did face the 8th toughest slate of opposing offenses, but overall, this was a shell of the formidable defense the division once knew.
Good news for Panthers fans is that star linebacker Luke Kuechly played in all 16 games for the first time since the 2014 season. A healthy Kuechly is a must as the Panthers defense will be looking to transition to a 3-4 base defense. The 2018 Panthers only had 35 sacks (27th in the league) compared to 50 in 2017 and 47 in 2016. The switch to the 3-4 will hope to generate a better pass rush and not allow opposing QBs time to pick apart a secondary that allowed 7.27 yards per attempt (27th in the league).
Notes & Nuggets
The Panthers will face the Bucs in London during week 6 and will be the first time the Panthers play overseas so that may be something to keep an eye out for as they make preparations for that journey for the first time. They don’t lose a home game with the international break, and they are taking their bye right after the trip which is smart and seems pretty standard now.
The Panthers expected win total comes out to 7.45 wins, so while I wouldn’t recommend playing this win total, I would lean to the under. Key players in Newton, Olsen, and Kuechly have injury histories, and I still don’t trust Newton’s ability to be an accurate downfield passer. They have a weak receiving corps, and even if the defense improves, I’m not going to trust this team yet.