The Carolina Panthers finished 5-11 en route to a third-place NFC South finish and the eighth overall pick. With Jaycee Horn and Sam Darnold in town, things already look quite different this year in Charlotte. How will that translate to the overall record? Reminder: The schedule is now 17 games long, rather than 16.
Week 1 vs. New York Jets
The Jets come to town Week 1 for the season opener. In a rather ironic twist, former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, now with the Panthers, is likely to be the Week 1 starter. The Jets will have a new head coach in Robert Saleh and a new quarterback in rookie Zach Wilson. The Jets were quite busy in free agency trying to shore up holes, but coming to Carolina Week 1 will prove to be a challenge.
Darnold wasn’t good in his Jets tenure, but with weapons galore, including Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and rookie Terrance Marshall, Jr., he should show at least some improvement. The Jets defense was lackluster last season and figures to be again, even under defensive guru Robert Saleh. Panthers 30-Jets 23
Week 2 vs. New Orleans Saints
If, and this is a big if, Sean Payton decides to stop messing around and start an actual quarterback behind center, then the Saints should be good again. Alvin Kamara and Mike Thomas are a top-tier RB-WR duo and that Saints defense is nasty. However, if Payton decides not to start a former Heisman trophy-winner and Rookie of the Year who threw for 5,000 yards his last year as a starter and opts instead to start Tim Tebow- I mean Taysom Hill, then the Panthers have a real shot.
Considering all signs have pointed to Hill starting, I’ll take the Panthers at home. Panthers 27-Saints 24
Week 3 @ Houston Texans
The Texans were bad last year. They lost Will Fuller and Kenny Stills and didn’t really improve at all. And due to the sexual assault allegations piling up against quarterback Deshaun Watson, they likely won’t have him either. JJ Watt is gone. The Texans are in a really bad place and didn’t even have a first-round pick to make an impact this year. Panthers 37-Texans 19
Week 4 @ Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys were atrocious on defense last year. Adding Micah Parsons helps, but losing Sean Lee doesn’t. The defense is still going to be really bad in Dallas, but the offense, led by a newly re-signed Dak Prescott, should be as incredible as they were last year before he got hurt. Prescott, with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, should dice up this young and relatively inexperienced Panthers defense. Look for a shootout with the home Cowboys scoring just enough to put the Panthers away. Cowboys 47-Panthers 42
Week 5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Is there any team in more dysfunction now than the Eagles? Considering they won a Super Bowl a few years ago, that’s pretty wild. Now, they can’t commit to a quarterback, they’ve got a brand new head coach and a whole lot of problems. Jalen Hurts might give the Panthers defense some issues with his mobility, but this should be a pretty easy one for Carolina. Panthers 37-Eagles 21
Week 6 vs. Minnesota Vikings
Another team the Panthers faced in 2020, the Vikings eked out a narrow victory last season. Now the Vikings had one of the better drafts in the league, and employ a top-tier wideout duo in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. The Panthers should thank Stefon Diggs for skipping town because that trio would be the best in all of football.
Some days, it comes down to random chance. “Any given Sunday” as they say. This given Sunday, at home, I think Darnold and Co. get it done. Panthers 31-Vikings 28
Week 7 @ New York Giants
The Giants had a near-playoff run last year, thanks in large part to the historically weak division. They added Kenny Golladay to an already strong skill position group and boast a top-notch defense led by former Panther James Bradberry.
He and his defensive counterparts will make life tough on Sam Darnold and Co. and the offense of the Giants, if Daniel Jones doesn’t need to do too much, should be just enough to grab a home win over Carolina. Giants 28-Panthers 24
Week 8 @ Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had a weird year last season, plagued by bad coaching and injuries. They should be much improved this year, especially on offense. Having Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on your offense is just not fair. When you add Kyle Pitts, you can see why the Panthers might have reached for Horn at pick number eight. On the road in a hostile environment might also prove tough for new quarterback Sam Darnold, too. Falcons 34-Panthers 23
Week 9 vs. New England Patriots
The Patriots were a better team than the Panthers a year ago, and they weren’t even that good. The Patriots spent a billion dollars building up this offseason and killed the draft. Oh, and you have to know Cam Newton is salivating at the chance to stick it to the team that used him up and threw him out. Bill Belichick likely coaches circles around Matt Rhule. Patriots 31-Panthers 20
Week 10 @ Arizona Cardinals
The offensive prowess of the Cardinals should provide a challenge for the Panthers. Kyler Murray, Deandre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, AJ Green, and Chase Edmond make up a good offensive core. The Cardinals are still trying to figure out the defense and they lost edge rusher, Haason Reddick, to the Panthers this offseason.
This is a game the Panthers are outmatched in. Almost like last season, when they were outmatched by the Cardinals and still pulled out a win. Sometimes, it happens that way. Panthers 34-Cardinals 28
Week 11 vs. Washington Football Team
The Football Team was a playoff team last year due to a historically bad NFC East. Still, though, they’re a solid team and an improved one from a year ago when the Panthers beat them. The Football Team has upgraded at quarterback and the Panthers have, at best, moved laterally at the position.
Rivera, though he does have two Coach of the Year awards (ahem, Cam Newton), isn’t the world’s best coach, but Matt Rhule hasn’t shown that he’s any better. Football Team probably steals this one on the strength of their defense. Football Team 29-Panthers 19
Week 12 @ Miami Dolphins
Boy, that AFC East is going to be a tough decision. Lucky Panthers get to play them this year. The Dolphins were a hair away from the playoffs last season and followed it up by having arguably the best draft. Adding Jaylen Waddle will help Tua Tagavoiloa a lot and the defense is stout.
Brian Flores is one of the better coaches in the league right now as he’s turned the Dolphins around in record time. If the Panthers were playing at home, it might be more of a toss-up, but they’re not. Dolphins 24-Panthers 20
Week 14 vs. Atlanta Falcons
Home and away split with the team the Panthers finished just ahead of last year seems like the most likely result. They’re probably roughly even in terms of overall talent, but on the road does make a difference. The trio of Pitts, Jones, and Ridley will prove too much for the Panthers’ young defense. Guarding those three guys is going to be a tough task, but the Falcons also finished the last place for a reason. I’ll take the split here, especially off the bye week. Panthers 33-Falcons 31
Week 15 @ Buffalo Bills
The Panthers are probably really regretting letting Sean McDermott left for Buffalo. They also are probably not happy about letting Brandon Beane follow suit, either. The Panthers needed a new coach and new GM recently, and that duo has turned Buffalo (formerly known as Carolina Panthers North) into a powerhouse. 13-3 last year and no indication they’ll finish any worse this year. This one shouldn’t really be close, either. Bills 45-Panthers 21
Week 16 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The defending champs, who didn’t lose any starters, are coming to town? Seriously doubt this game is close for Carolina. Brady is getting older and at any point, his body could go, as it probably should have years ago, but there are no indicators that that day is anytime soon. Rookie Jaycee Horn is going to have his work cut out for him covering the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Oh, and don’t forget Antonio Brown, too. Buccaneers 38- Panthers 20
Week 17 @ New Orleans Saints
Regardless of who the Saints throw out there at quarterback, they’re a good team. And the Superdome is one of the toughest places to play in football and with fans finally back in seats, it’s going to be even more difficult. Sam Darnold hasn’t indicated that he’s not the guy the Jets got rid of, so this is not going to be easy.
The Saints are likely a playoff team, even without Drew Brees, and the Panthers are likely not. Saints don’t lose many at home and they’re not going here. Saints 38-Panthers 30
Week 18 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Defending champions? On the road? In the building, they won that Super Bowl in? With Tom Brady? Nightmare for Phil Snow’s defense. Having to guard all the skill position players and try to get to Brady with that offensive line is a suicide mission. Buccaneers 42- Panthers 27
A 7-10 record is about what you can expect when you’re in the middle of a rebuild and coming off a 5-11 record. Don’t expect the Panthers to compete for a playoff spot, but they’re building something. Adding pieces slowly and growing into a good team. They should be competitive in a lot of games, even if they ultimately lose.