2018 win total: 9
2017 ATS record: 9-7
Optimist view: Carolina went 11-5 last season, beating teams such as the Patriots and Vikings, and the bulk of the roster returns. The most important piece, QB Cam Newton, has a new weapon in place (first-round WR D.J. Moore), an old one back (TE Greg Olsen, who returns from an injury-plagued season) and a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, who could challenge Newton and elevate his game to greater heights. The addition of RB C.J. Anderson also could beef up the run game.
The defense could be in good shape, especially along the front seven, where Julius Peppers and Thomas Davis (even though he must serve a four-game suspension) are back, along with stalwarts Luke Kuechly and potential breakout player Shaq Thompson. The Panthers did some housecleaning in the secondary, and improving one of the league’s worst units should be doable.
Pessimist view: This was a very fortunate team last season, winning a shocking eight-of-nine one-score games with the opponent having the ball with less than two minutes remaining and a chance to tie or win in six of those games. The Panthers only outscored their opponents by 36 net points, and they were plus-44 in two wins over the 49ers (who would lose their first nine games) in Week 1 and the Dolphins (who lost eight of their final 10) in Week 10.
Newton’s weaponry should be improved this season, but is the offensive line better? Likely not. Adjusting to Turner’s system also will take time. The Panthers actually will have new play callers on each side of the ball, including first-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington, the team’s third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. Peppers’ age and Davis’ suspension — in what could be their final NFL seasons — also are factors.
Plus, there’s added pressure on head coach Ron Rivera now that the team’s sale is final to new owner David Tepper. He might want to bring in his own people, especially if Year 1 is a struggle.
On schedule: The Week 4 bye isn’t ideal placement, and they’ll have to do some heavy lifting late with three divisional games — including two vs. the NFC South champion Saints, the team they lost three times to last season — in Weeks 15-17. The Panthers went 3-3 in the division last year and were outscored by 9 points in those games.
The overall schedule doesn’t look brutal on paper, but there are tough road games at Philly and Pittsburgh and potential home traps against the Cowboys, Giants, Ravens and Seahawks. After Week 9, they only play three more games at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers are a clear regression candidate from a year ago after performing more like a 9-7 team than an 11-5 one. This is not a bad club, mind you, and the offense could be interesting with a more dynamic Christian McCaffery if the line holds up. But how will Newton perform in a new system a year after taking a lot of big hits and setting a career high in rush attempts in a season?
I also just think this defense has too many questions. Is Dontari Poe adding that much? Can we count on Kuechly for 16 games, or close to it? Davis’ suspension and Peppers’ age worry me. The secondary is unproven until proven. And so on …
Nine is not a huge number, but I am hedging on under that, especially in such a tough division. The Buccaneers, for one, could be a big bounce-back candidate. I just don’t think the Panthers will repeat their success of a year ago.
Previous projected win total breakdowns