The Carolina Panthers are an interesting franchise to monitor. They cut a former MVP quarterback in Cam Newton and have doubled down on defensive draft picks. Their offensive line still has plenty of question marks but Christian McCaffrey still serves as a premier offensive option.
Here’s how I see them fitting into the NFC South in 2020.
2019-20 season rundown
You can’t talk about the Panthers 2019 season without talking about the injuries to Cam Newton. His season was over almost before it began, with the former MVP only playing in 2 games before being shut down for the year. Kyle Allen looked like a decent fill-in, but fell apart as the season progressed. Christian McCaffrey was the only thing that saved this offense, though their young receivers hold a lot of promise for the long-term.
Their 5-11 finish ultimately led to the termination of long time coach Ron Rivera and the team - under new ownership - has decided to chart a new path forward by moving on from their coach and QB in the same year.
Offseason key additions
QB Teddy Bridgewater - The outstanding backup behind Drew Brees in 2019 finally gets a chance to start again after injuries sidelined his career in Minnesota. A quality signing for Carolina.
WR Robby Anderson - The veteran former Jets receiver still has a lot to offer and adds to the depth of a young receiving corps.
DL Derrick Brown (rookie) - The first round pick may have to fight for snaps, but could be a great long-term pick up for this rebuilding defense.
Offseason key departures
LB Luke Kuechly - The All-Pro linebacker shocked everyone with his retirement and it leaves a massive hole in the middle of this defense.
QB Cam Newton - Say what you want, but the Panthers won a lot of games with Newton at QB. His play had declined as injuries piled up, but it’s hard to replace QBs in this league.
DT Dontari Poe - A quality interior defender will probably not be missed as much with the drafting of Derrick Brown and the return of Kawaan Short.
Key games on the schedule
Week 2 - at Tampa Bay: The team gets their first look at Tom Brady and his new threads in Tampa. This could be a very big test for their defense.
Week 8 - vs Atlanta: If the Panthers are going to improve in the division, they need to start finding a way to beat Atlanta. The Falcons have dominated this match-up in recent years.
Week 9 - at Kansas City: Going against Patrick Mahomes and the defending champs on the road in the middle of the season could be a big measuring stick for how the rebuild is going.
The addition of Teddy Bridgewater is a clear upgrade over Kyle Allen. Whether or not he can be a long-term option at QB is another question. This offense should have a lot of weapons, but it will still revolve around McCaffrey. The defense, though, is going to be a work in progress. They will miss Luke Kuechly badly and they will probably start quite a few young guys this year. With Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan all targeting them this season, it could be a bumpy road for them in 2020.
This still could be a team on the rise, but I’m not expecting a big leap forward in a year with limited training camp time.