*Photo Credit: Housely

2016 Record: 6-10

NFL Draft: Rd 1- RB, Christian McCaffrey; Rd 2- RB/WR, Curtis Samuel; Rd 2- G, Taylor Moton; Rd 3- DE, Daeshon Hall; Rd 5- LB, Corn Elder; Rd 6- FB, Alex Armah; Rd 7- K, Harrison Butker

Pitt Players: P, Andy Lee #8


Team Overview:

Let’s get real here, the 2016 Carolina Panthers were not the same Panthers we will see in 2017.  Last year was rough, especially in a division which featured the Super Bowl runner-up Falcons, the up-and-coming Buccaneers, and the Saints, who always have a dangerous offense.  Drained due to the departure of top cornerback Josh Norman, and forced to rely on rookie corners all year, the 2016 Panthers were not the team everyone expected the 2015 NFC Champs to be.  However, the Panthers made good roster moves this offseason and have positioned themselves to be a top competitor once again.

On the offense, the Panthers added RB Christian McCaffrey, one of the best playmakers college football has ever seen.  He will prove to be an incredible player for an offense that runs through Cam Newton, adding another explosive playmaker to the former MVP’s arsenal.  This offense also welcomes back its solid receiving core led by Kelvin Benjamin, and in the 2017 NFL Draft this team added Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel, a versatile playmaker.  I also expect the offensive line to play well this year, and this offseason the team added Matt Kalil from the Vikings, whose brother Ryan has been the long time center for this franchise.  To put it simply, the Panthers could have one of the more dangerous offenses in the league this year, if they can find their chemistry.

This offseason, the Panthers brought back future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers, who began his career in Carolina before playing in Chicago and Green Bay.  The most vital thing for this defense will be the cornerback position, which proved to be the achilles heel for the 2016 Panthers. This group of corners is young, but the Panthers brought back Captain Munnerlyn from the Vikings.  I’m sure Panthers fans are hoping that James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, and the other young corners on this team can have better seasons this year.  In a division that includes the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Mike Thomas, these young Carolina corners will have to step up quickly if they want to prevent opposing offenses from scoring at will.  Like most years, the NFC South is completely up for grabs, and the Panthers will need to get everything they can out of their defense if they want to take this highly competitive division.

Game by Game Predictions:

Week 1: Away at the San Francisco 49ers

This one shouldn’t be close.  An easy win for Carolina in Week 1.

Predicted Score: 17-0 Panthers (Current Record: 1-0)

Week 2: Home vs the Buffalo Bills

I don’t think the Bills will be as bad as everyone thinks they’re going to be this year (I hope you’re happy Derek).  That said, I think the Panthers possess a superior offense and defense, and I can’t see the Bills locking down an offense with so many weapons.  A solid win for Carolina in Week 2.

Predicted Score: 21-10 Panthers (Current Record: 2-0)

Week 3: Home vs the New Orleans Saints

These matchups are always exciting, especially since the Saints and Panthers have great offenses.  Don’t expect a defensive matchup here, and I would be surprised if Cam Newton and Drew Brees both don’t go over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns each.  This may be an offensive game, but the Panthers defense should get a couple of crucial stops, so I can see them sneaking out with a win here.

Predicted Score: 45-42 Panthers (Current Record: 3-0)

Week 4: Away at the New England Patriots

We’ve spoken about the Patriots on the Locker Room podcast, and I’ve written about them in previous pieces.  To put it simply, the Super Bowl 51 Champions got even better this offseason, and I expect Carolina to get romped here.

Predicted Score: 28-10 Patriots (Current Record: 3-1)

Week 5: Away at the Detroit Lions

The Lions are one of the more interesting teams in the league this year, and this will be an even matchup.  I think this one is a toss up, but since I have to choose a winner here I give it to Carolina.  I think the Panthers have a slightly better offense, and a defense that can withstand the Lions’ offensive weapons.  This one could come down to wire.

Predicted Score: 21-17 Panthers (Current Record: 4-1)

Week 6: Home vs the Philadelphia Eagles

I already wrote about this Thursday Night matchup in my Eagles piece.  I’ll stick with my original pick.

Predicted Score: 21-7 Panthers (Current Record: 5-1)

Week 7: Away at the Chicago Bears

We spoke about how terrible the Bears will be on the Locker Room Episode 10, and that still rings true.  Easy win for the Panthers.

Predicted Score: 35-10 Panthers (Current Record 6-1)

Week 8: Away at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I think these two teams will split their series this year.  Both Tampa Bay and Carolina possess potent offenses led by versatile quarterbacks.  Both of them could be in the playoffs this year, but that said, I think the Bucs grab a win in a tight contest.

Predicted Score: 24-21 Buccaneers (Current Record: 6-2)

Week 9: Home vs the Atlanta Falcons

Huge game here for the Carolina Panthers.  The two previous NFC Champions will meet in Carolina for a decisive game in the NFC South race.  Last year the Falcons offense tore up Carolina’s fledgling pass defense, and I expect that to happen once again.  A humbling defeat for the Panthers at home here.

Predicted Score: 35-21 Falcons (Current Record: 6-3)

Week 10: Home vs the Miami Dolphins

This one would’ve been closer if Ryan Tannehill hadn’t torn his ACL.  Any team with Jay Cutler as its starter is a team that can have 4 or 5 turnovers.  I expect the Panthers to bounce back against the Dolphins in Week 10.

Predicted Score: 20-13 Panthers (Current Record: 7-3)

Week 11: Bye-Week

The Panthers get a nice, late bye-week this year right before a tough final stretch.  They’ll play half of their last six games at home, and play two of their away games in a dome.  That said, half of their final six games are within the NFC South, so they’ll have to be on point if they want a playoff berth.

Current Predicted Record: 7-3

Week 12: Away at the New York Jets

The Jets are an embarrassment to the states of New Jersey and New York.  The Panthers will wipe the floor with the sorry Jets.  New York lacks any semblance of an offense, especially since every quarterback on that roster stinks.  Defensively, the Jets have a decent line, but their secondary is messy and they don’t have the skill to cover the deadly Panthers offense.

Predicted Score: 42-10 Panthers (Current Record: 8-3)

Week 13: Away at the New Orleans Saints

Like their first matchup, this game is bound to be high scoring.  At this point in the season, I’m confident that the Panthers’ defense will be playing better.  I think Carolina sweeps their division rivals this year.

Predicted Score: 35-31 Panthers (Current Record: 9-3)

Week 14: Home vs the Minnesota Vikings

This game would be more exciting if Teddy Bridgewater were the starter for the Vikings, but unfortunately I haven’t heard of any positive news regarding his health.  Sam Bradford isn’t a good NFL quarterback, and I think he’ll be embarrassed in Carolina.

Predicted Score: 31-17 Panthers (Current Record: 10-3)

Week 15: Home vs the Green Bay Packers

This is going to be an exciting game.  It could go either way, but regardless of the final result I’m ready for an entertaining matchup here.  I think these teams could meet in the playoffs, but I’ll call this one for the Packers.  Green Bay will edge this one out.

Predicted Score: 28-24 Packers (Current Record: 10-4)

Week 16: Home vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

At this point in the season, both of these teams will by vying for a spot in the playoffs.  I said earlier that these teams will split their series this year, so this one should go to Carolina, who is a better overall team.  With a win here, Carolina could lock down a playoff berth, setting up a potential division deciding matchup in Week 17.

Predicted Score: 24-21 Panthers (Current Record: 11-4)

Week 17: Away at the Atlanta Falcons

I’m not an expert about how TV flexing works, but if these two teams are vying for the division crown, then this could be a Sunday Night game.  In a rematch of their Week 8 loss, the Panthers will seek to prove to their rivals that last year was a fluke.  I think Carolina will win this one in a thriller, cementing themselves as a 3 or 4 seed in the NFC.  I can see both of these teams in the playoffs, so they could have a third matchup in January.

Predicted Score: 17-14 Panthers (Current Record: 12-4)

Final Results:

The 2017 Carolina Panthers are looking to make a statement that last year was nothing but a fluke.  This team has a retooled offense and a defense that added some nice pieces this offseason.  The NFC South is going to be tough this year since each team has a good offense and an above average defense, besides the Saints (defensively).  The Panthers have all the tools to get into the playoffs as a Wild Card team at the very least.  The NFC is looking pretty weak at the moment, so even if they don’t top their rival Falcons, expect the Panthers to be playing in January.  Despite the overall weakness of the NFC, I think the Panthers can beat out the Falcons for the top spot in their division.  This team has players with a lot of playoff experience, so the vets know what it takes to reach the playoffs.  I can’t see this team getting a Super Bowl berth, but they can potentially make a deep playoff run if that defense can recover.  This is going to be a fun team to watch in 2017.

Predicted Record: 12-4

Sam Bleifer is a student at the University of Pittsburgh (Class of 2019) who is majoring in Political Science and History, and minoring in Philosophy. Sam was born and raised in New Jersey and never stops talking about how great Newark airport is (seriously). He aspires to go into politics one day and hopes to run for office in New Jersey. Sam is the host of Spotlight and The Honesty Hour.