What to Expect From the Carolina Panthers

At this point every year, I sit down and talk myself into the Panthers going anywhere from 11-5 to 13-3. This year however, I am struggling to get to that point, but don’t worry, after enough time I got there. Throughout this post, I am doing to mention and breakdown a couple of players, do a quick run through of their draft, and end it with a complete breakdown of their schedule.

Obviously there is Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, and Greg Olsen. They HAVE to preform and stay healthy for the Panthers to have ANY kind of success. Obviously the secondary has not shown up at all for the past few season, but I expect that to change. Bradberry and Jackson are both going to have fantastic years. Eric Reid is going to return to form, and we welcome back Tre Boston, who can remember the energy we need to have to match the 2015 season. As for the linebackers, a key offseason signing of Bruce Irvin is going to, in my opinion, prove very crucial as he will be able to pass off a ton of his knowledge to our already talented linebacker group. Every year this player seems to be “the breakout guy” but he never has proven to be. And that is Shaq Thompson. A tremendous outside linebacker, but has never taken it to the next level that the Panthers are looking for. And then we get to the front four. Fantastic. Gerald McCoy was a great offseason acquisition and I am predicting a bounce back season for Dontari Poe. You can always expect KK Short to have a great year along with Mario Addison. And then there is the newcomer Brian Burns, and I will touch on him later. But I will say one thing, I am very excited for this man to join the Carolina Panthers. VERY.

As for the offense, the offensive line is terrible. Just terrible. A somehow ranked middle of the pack pass blocking o-line, they have got to just add a few more seconds for Cam. And part of this is on Cam too. He takes way to long for a play to develop. He needs to go through his drop back and by the time his back foot plants know who he is throwing too. As for the run block, we were the 6th worse run blocking team. And if you think of how good McCaffrey was, just imagine him on a team that could actually block for him. Wild right. I think the run block is going to make a lot of improvements and the pass blocking is actually going to suffer. Which brings me to my next point, Cam Newton. What a wild ride he is. Cam needs to stay healthy if the Panthers want ANY sort of success. Coming off a shoulder surgery, I think we are going to see a Cam Newton similar to his MVP season. DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel are both going to have breakout seasons with this improved Cam Newton and McCaffrey is going to continue to be one of the best backs in the league.

Now for the most interesting part. Dissecting the Panthers schedule. Probably none of what I actually said above is going to happen which means that the next part is also gonna be wrong.

Week #1: At home playing the Los Angeles Rams

Plain and simple the Panthers are going to get thrashed. We are not going to come out hot, the Rams are going to run all over us and just dominate us. Very little chance the Panthers actually win this game.

Week #2: At home playing the Tampa Bay Bucs

After a probable demoralizing loss in week one, the Panthers are going to come back strong in a early division game. It is always going to be a tough game with the NFC South, but the Bucs are definitely the easiest team to play. I believe the Panthers will come out on top but it won’t be easy.

Week #3: Away playing the Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are probably going to be one of the worst teams in football. However, the Panthers can never get up for these kinds of games. They seem to play down to the level of the opponent. However, the Panthers are going to win this game easily and it won’t be much of a contest.

Week #4: Away playing the Houston Texans

Deshaun Watson is going to pick apart the Carolina Panthers. We will have no solution. We will lose this game to get to 2-2 on the season through 4 games.

Week #5: At home playing the Jacksonville Jaguars

This is going to be one of the closest games of the Panthers season. I believe that we are going to come out on top after a tough battle and improve to 3-2.

Week #6: Away playing the Tampa Bay Bucs

The Panthers will easily win this game. It won’t be much of a challenge, but will prove to be a very big win as we will continue to gain momentum. 4-2 on the season and getting into a rhythm.

WEEK 7 BYE

Week #8: Away playing the San Francisco 49ers

The Panthers should easily win this game. 5-2 on the season.

Week #9: At home playing the Tennessee Titans

I do not like Mariota and especially don’t think his career is going ANYWHERE. Panthers win another easy game to get to 6-2.

Week #10: Away playing the Green Bay Packers

Away at Lambeau is always challenging. Especially if the Packers have a defense which I believe they will be pretty tough this year. Panthers drop this game. And it won’t be close.

Week #11: At home playing the Atlanta Falcons

NFC South games are always challenging whether it is home or away. Panthers win this game behind a fantastic McCaffrey game. 7-3.

Week #12: Away playing the New Orleans Saints

We get smashed. Never can play the Saints. Kamara tears us apart. 7-4.

Week #13: At home playing the Washington Redskins

I believe by this time Haskins is going to be playing for the Redskins and he torches us. Panthers drop back to back games to get to 7-5 on the year.

Week #14: Away playing the Atlanta Falcons

Panthers lose three straight and start to get frustrated with the way things are going. After a close loss in Atlanta the Panthers begin to think about firing Ron Rivera. 7-6 on the year.

Week #15: At home playing the Seattle Seahawks

Four straight losses for the Panthers after a great start to the season leads to even more thought about Rivera’s job security. 500 on the year sitting at 7-7 with 2 weeks left.

Week #16: Away playing the Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are going to be one of the worst teams in football. Panthers win this one to at least finish at 500 for the season. It seems as if Rivera will be safe. 8-7.

Week #17: Away playing the New Orleans Saints

The Panthers get absolutely embarrassed in this game. Finishing at 500 on the season and not making the playoffs, Rivera is definitely on the hot seat. 8-8 on the year. Disappointing to say the least.

2019 NFL Season Preview: AFC South Edition

The shocking news from Indianapolis has made the AFC South the Houston Texans’ to lose.

As a part of our preparation for the upcoming NFL season, my fellow FTS Writer Adam Simkowitz and I decided to dive deep into every teams’ offseason, picking the most interesting players and storylines to follow this season. Accompanying these players and storylines are draft class summaries, teams’ strengths and weaknesses, and record predictions. We’ll release two AFC and NFC division previews per week, and we now we’ll finish off the first week with the southern divisions.

Here are the previous division previews:

AFC East Preview

NFC East Preview

NFC South Preview

Houston Texans

2019 Draft Grade: D+ I didn’t really love what the Texans did this year. Tytus Howard felt like a total reach to me, probably as a result of the Eagles leapfrogging them to draft Andre Dillard, the superior tackle prospect. Lonnie Johnson Jr. is a somewhat understandable pick at 54, filling the absence of Kevin Johnson and the eventual departure of Jonathan Joseph. I appreciate the Texans’ effort to bolster their offensive line, but they may have gone about it in the wrong way. We’ll definitely see Tytus Howard and Max Scharping get regular-season reps this year, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up about these first-year tackles.

Player to Watch: Deshaun Watson, Quarterback – I’m going to be honest for a second. When times get tough, and my spirits are down, I try to go to my happy place. My happy place is a wonderful, make-believe land where bad things don’t happen, the clouds are made out of cotton candy, and everyone is happy. In my happy place, Deshaun Watson plays behind 5 Hall-of-Fame offensive linemen. Here are a few stats regarding Deshaun Watson’s 2018 season. In 2018, Deshaun Watson was sacked 62 times in 16 games, which averages out to be about 3.8 times per game. Despite this, he managed to account for over 4500 yards and 30 touchdowns. If Deshaun Watson has a somewhat functional offensive line, his production has no ceiling. With the addition of two Top-100 draft picks to his offensive line, I’m hoping that this year will be a little easier for Watson. The world deserves to see Deshaun Watson at his highest potential.

Positional Strengths: Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Edge Rusher

Positional Weaknesses: Running Back, Cornerback, Offensive Line

Projected Record: 10-6

Indianapolis Colts

2019 Draft Grade: B – Chris Ballard seems to have figured out the draft (For now). The Colts recognized their team needs (WR, Secondary,LB), found out where the value was for these positions (picks 30-90), and put their resources into dominating that section of the draft. Rock ya-Sin is a physical, instinctual corner with a good amount of room to grow. Ben Banogu and Bobby Okereke are both ridiculous athletic specimens in their own ridiculous ways. Parris Campbell is a modern Swiss Army Knife at WR. This class could easily become as successful as their class from last year. However, their appearances will be limited this year, as the Colts are in championship contention. As of now, Okereke and Ya-Sin are the only rookies slotted to get a good amount of playing time this season, but I bet we’ll see some of Campbell and Banogu this year.

Player to Watch: Jacoby Brissett, Quarterback – This doesn’t need much explanation. Just kidding.

Positional Strengths: Linebacker, Edge Rusher

Positional Weaknesses: Cornerback, Right Side of Offensive Line

Projected Record: 8-8

Jacksonville Jaguars

2019 Draft Grade: A- – I think the Jaguars may have the league’s most immediate impact from their draft class (Outside of the Arizona Cardinals). Josh Allen (EDGE) and Jawaan Taylor (OT) are both future starters, and Allen is a very strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He showcased his defensive versatility in the preseason, wrecking offensive tackles from the edge and being a complete playmaker in the open field. Taylor is slotted to start at right tackle, and he played very well in the preseason, which is rare for a rookie offensive lineman. Josh Oliver (TE) out of San Jose State will see some playing time, both as a blocker and as a possible mismatch in the passing game.

Player(s) to Watch: Taven Bryan, Defensive Tackle; D.J. Chark, Wide Receiver – I chose both of these players for the same reason. You could probably guess why; they’re both second-year players in which the Jaguars invested a good amount of draft capital, and neither of them have shown their worth yet. It’s not necessarily a make-it or break-it year for these sophomores, but another disappointing year from these two could spell trouble for the rest of their respective careers. From what I’ve seen this offseason, it’s more likely that D.J. Chark will be able to progress in a substantial way this season.

Positional Strengths: Defensive Line, Cornerback, Interior Offensive Line, Linebacker

Positional Weaknesses: Running Back, Tight End,Wide Receiver

Projected Record: 6-10

Tennessee Titans

2019 Draft Grade: A -This draft for Tennessee has been par for the course on their upwards trend as a franchise. They selected Jeffery Simmons (DE) in the first, who’ll likely succeed Brett Urban as a starting defensive end by the end of the season.A.J. Brown (WR) was one of my favorite receivers from the draft. He runs like a running back after the catch, and he’s able to create separation at a borderline elite level. Given their weak receiving corp, I’d imagine that he’ll get a healthy amount of playing time this season. Amani Hooker (S) and D’Andre Walker (LB) were both picks of a high value, but it’ll be a while before they see first-team reps, barring injuries to their current starters.

Player(s) to Watch: Derrick Henry, Running Back – Okay, this was a selfish and possibly a mean pick. At most sports-books, the line for the over/under for Henry’s rushing yards this season is around 1220 yards right now. Last year, Derrick Henry rushed for 1059 yards. This included a 99 yard rush against Jacksonville. If you remove that one anomaly of a play from his 2018 stats, he ran for 960 yards; while missing zero games. There is nothing, and I mean nothing that indicates that he will increase that total by about 250 yards this year. Their offensive line remains the same, except they’re losing Taylor Lewan for four games. Their quarterback is the same, and he’ll likely play more than he did last season, taking away even more from Henry’s production.

The recency bias on Derrick Henry’s rushing abilities is strong. It reminds me of when Jay Ajayi broke out, rushing for over 200 yards three times in 2016; then regressed in an extreme way in 2017, rushing for 20 less yards per game. I love watching Derrick Henry play, when else are we going to see a running back that is almost always the strongest player on the field? I just think that the NFL Media has hyped him up far too much, and he’s due for regression this year.

Harold Landry II, Edge Rusher – I decided to include Harold Landry in my players to watch only because I felt guilty after writing my thoughts about Derrick Henry. I’ve loved Landry since his sophomore year at Boston College, where he racked up 16 TFL and completely wrecked Florida State in primetime. He rushes the passer with a blend of power and finesse, showcasing a beautiful array of pass-rushing moves, and he has a great motor. He was a steal in the second round of the 2018 draft, and he played very efficiently in his limited reps as a rookie. Now he’s a starting edge rusher for Tennessee, and I’m really excited to see if he makes a leap in his second NFL season.

Positional Strengths: Offensive Line, Secondary

Positional Weaknesses: Wide Receiver

Projected Record: 8-8

Storylines to Watch

Marcus Mariota’s Fifth Season – This year, the former #2 overall pick is entering the fifth and final season of his rookie contract. Up to this point, his career has been painfully average in just about every way. He is 27-28 as a starter, his QBR has hovered around 55 in every season of his career, and he graded as the 18th best quarterback in the league last year, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s actually impressive that Mariota never seemed to slip into the lower tiers of NFL QBs, he’s had to deal with three different head coaches in his four years in the NFL. He’s never had an above-average supporting cast of skill-position players, and his offensive line has at times been objectively horrible. This is the most important year of Mariota’s young career, his level of play this year will likely decide his future with the Titans’ organization.

The Houston Texans’ General Manager (Or Lack Thereof) – After firing Brian Gaine, their incumbent general manager, this past June, the Texans were without a general manager heading into the 2019 season. Another interesting aspect to this situation is the fact that they fired their GM after the 2019 draft and the entirety of free agency. One would assume that a general manager is necessary for an NFL franchise, but Houston has decided to roll into the regular season using a GM-by-committee approach. So far, this has led to the Texans trading a fourth-round pick for a one-down running back. It’s rare for a team with the opportunity to contend for the AFC Championship to have such a lack of stability and leadership at the top of their front office.

2019 NFL Season Preview: AFC East Edition

Is this the year that the New England Patriots finally give up the division title? No, obviously.

As a part of our preparation for the upcoming NFL season, my fellow FTS Writer Adam Simkowitz and I decided to dive deep into every teams’ offseason, picking the most interesting players and storylines to follow this season. Accompanying these players and storylines are draft class summaries, teams’ strengths and weaknesses, and record predictions. We’ll release two AFC and NFC division previews per week, and we decided to kick it off with the eastern divisions.

Buffalo Bills

2019 Draft Grade: A- – In this past draft, the Bills were lucky enough to have Ed Oliver (DT/DE) fall to them at #9. I really like Cody Ford (OT), their second-round pick, who successfully protected Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray’s respective blindsides for the past two years. I could also see Dawson Knox (TE) becoming a productive starter in the league. Between Devin Singletary (RB), Vosean Joseph (LB), and Jaquan Johnson (S), there will be at least two future starters from that group. However, that may not be the case for this season. This was a fantastic draft from the rebuilding Bills. As of right now, Ed Oliver and Cody Ford are the two from this class that are slotted to start immediately.

Player to Watch: Josh Allen, Quarterback – Okay, look. I’m not saying Josh Allen is a good quarterback. I’ll be the first to criticize him when he overthrows Cole Beasley by 10 feet on an underneath route. However, he might be the most entertaining quarterback to watch; aside from Lamar Jackson. Allen is a surprisingly fast, high-flying QB with an insanely powerful arm. Watching him play quarterback is like watching Michael Vick in Brock Osweiler’s body. I think it’ll be an interesting year for Allen; we’ll see how his style of play changes once defenses figure out his game.

Positional Strengths: Defensive Line, Secondary

Positional Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back

Projected Record: 6-10

Miami Dolphins

2019 Draft Grade: C+ – The Dolphins didn’t have a ton of picks this year. With their two Top-100 picks, they elected to stay in the trenches with Christian Wilkins (DT) and Michael Deiter(LG). I appreciate the Dolphins draft strategy though; linemen are the first position that you want to draft when beginning a rebuild. Wilkins and Deiter will be week one starters, but outside of that, the only production that’ll be seen from this draft class is from Andrew Van Ginkel (LB), who’ll showcase his athleticism on special teams.

Player to Watch: Charles Harris, Edge Rusher – I’m going to keep it simple here. This is a make-it or break-it season for Charles Harris. That will come as a surprise to approximately zero Dolphins fans, as they’ve had to watch their former first-round edge rusher rack up THREE total sacks in his first two seasons as a pro. However, Harris has looked relatively dominant thus far in preseason action. This is the season to prove that he belongs in the NFL. His offensive-minded head coach Adam Gase is in New York now, and he was replaced by Brian Flores, who coached linebackers in New England. Now that he has a favorable coaching staff and plenty of opportunity for this rebuilding defense, he either needs to put up or shut up this season.

Positional Strengths: Cornerback

Positional Weaknesses: Pretty much every position except for cornerback.

Projected Record: 2-14

New York Jets

2019 Draft Grade: B+ – I have mixed feelings about the Jets’ 2019 draft class. I absolutely love Quinnen Williams (DT). I think he’ll be great right off the bat; he’s one of my favorite bets for defensive rookie of the year. Outside of Williams though, I kind of hate the rest of the New York draft class. Third round picks Jachai Polite (EDGE) has had a subpar preseason so far, and Chuma Edoga (OT) understandably won’t be an immediate starter for them. I think Quinnen Williams’ success will likely overshadow the rest of the class’s shortcomings.

Player to Watch: Jamal Adams, Safety – Jamal Adams is one of the two defensive players that I expect to leap into Superstar-Dom this season. This offseason has been an onslaught of praise and good reports for Adams, from offering to switch positions to staying hours after a preseason game just to sign autographs and take pictures. He was Pro Football Focus’s 2nd highest-graded safety last year, and this year I expect him to solidify himself as one of the league’s premier safeties.

Positional Strengths: Skill Positions

Positional Weaknesses: Offensive Line

Projected Record: 8-8

New England Patriots

2019 Draft Grade: A – Although I didn’t love the selection of N’Keal Harry (WR) with the 32nd pick in this past year’s draft, I still love the Patriots draft class. Their draft class was mostly about building depth on their lines, both defensive and offensive. They had a stronghold on picks in this draft too, so it’s likely that rookies will see more action than they did last year. Last year, the Patriots ranked in the bottom two of the NFL in terms of rookie playing time. This is due both to a season-ending injury to their first-round pick, Isaiah Wynn, and Bill Belichick’s general coaching philosophy of playing mid-level veterans over rookies. According to their current unofficial depth chart, none of the current rookies surpass the third string. I would bet that Harry, JoeJuan Williams (CB/S), Chase Winovich (EDGE), and Byron Cowart (DT) will all see playing time this season. I included Winovich and Cowart because of rave reviews from training camp, and dominant performances in the preseason.

Players to Watch: The Entire Offensive Line – Okay, this probably needs an explanation. Later in this preview, I’ll talk a little bit more in-depth about Tom Brady’s situation this year. And to be honest, there aren’t that many more big personalities or entertaining players on the Patriots. Wow, I wonder why they’ve won 5 championships since 2001… So I picked their offensive line. They have the unarguably best offensive line coach in the NFL, Dante Scarnecchia, and with the addition of Isaiah Wynn, this might be the most talented group New England has had since the late 2000s. They have a group of monsters up there, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Patriots continue the ground-and-pound approach that they switched to mid-season last year. I think it could be a big year for their running game, and they’ll do a great job of protecting their 42-year-old quarterback.

Positional Strengths: Offensive Line, Quarterback, Linebacker, Secondary

Positional Weaknesses: Tight End

Projected Record: 12-4

Storylines to Watch:

Tom Brady vs. Father Time (And the Patriots?): This will be one of the leading storylines of the AFC East’s season no matter what. Personally, I hate to bet against time, because time is undefeated. But here’s an interesting fact: Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time, and he won a Super Bowl at age 41. So I’m betting on Tom Brady. I think he’ll be as efficient as ever, even if that means not throwing the ball down the field as often. However, it’ll be very interesting to see what happens if Brady slows down this season. A few weeks ago, the Patriots restructured Brady’s contract, giving him a ton of money this year, but giving the Patriots the ability to cut him with minimal financial repercussions after this season. Essentially, if Brady doesn’t play to a certain level this season, there’s a chance he gets cut, then retires. I don’t think it’s likely, but anything can happen.

Second Year Quarterbacks: Here is a very likely scenario:It’s Week 5, and three 2018 top-ten picks are starting quarterbacks for 75% of the AFC East. Sam Darnold and Josh Allen are clearly starters for the Jets and Bills, respectively, but Josh Rosen has to win the Dolphins’ starting job from the ageless and seemingly magical Ryan Fitzpatrick. I cannot confirm this, but that will probably be the first time that three Top-Ten QBs’ from the same draft class are starting in the same division. Twitter will be all over this, and it’ll turn into a year-long comparison of these three guys. That is all I have to say about that. Oh, and my rankings of those QBs are: 1. Sam Darnold …………………………………………………2a. Josh Rosen, 2b. Josh Allen.

ALL-Division Team

QB – Tom Brady, NE

RB: Le’Veon Bell, NYJ RB: James White, NE

FB: James Devlin, NE

WR: Julian Edelman, NE WR: Robby Anderson, NYJ

TE: Chris Herndon, NYJ

OT: Laremy Tunsil, MIA OT: Marcus Cannon, NE

OG: Shaq Mason, NE OG: Joe Thuney, NE

C: David Andrews, NE

EDGE: Jerry Hughes, BUF EDGE: Leonard Williams, NYJ

DL: Ed Oliver, BUF DL: Quinnen Williams, NYJ

LB: C.J. Mosley, NYJ LB: Dont’a Hightower, NE

LB: Tremaine Edmunds, BUF LB: Kyle Van Noy, NE

CB: Stephon Gilmore, NE CB: Xaiven Howard, MIA

S: Jamal Adams, NYJ S: Devin McCourty, NE

DB: Micah Hyde, BUF DB: Tre’Davious White, BUF

K: Stephen Gostkowski, NE P: Matt Haack, MIA