OTAs are well underway for NFL teams and season predictions are underway for writers here at E2G Sports! The Carolina Panthers spent the majority of their 2020 season looking up at New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Are they capable of staging a playoff run in 2021? Let’s dive into their schedule and find out.

These predictions are in a perfect world; free of injuries and bad weather and are based on the teams as currently structured. Of course, things could potentially change if big pieces were to move (Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, etc.).

This will be updated after the preseason.

WEEK ONE: HOME VS. NEW YORK JETS (W)  

The Jets will be starting a rookie quarterback in his first NFL game. A fortunate draw for Carolina to start the season. New Panthers signal-caller Sam Darnold gets an instant revenge game against his former team. Shipped to Charlotte in favor of a top draft pick, Darnold should light up his old team, with the help of former All-Pro running back, Christian McCaffrey.

The Panthers win their home opener despite a fight put up by Zach Wilson.

Noteworthy Matchup: QB Sam Darnold vs. Former Team

WEEK TWO: HOME VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (L) 

The Panthers’ undefeated season should last about a week, as they host the Saints in week two. New Orleans went 3-1 last season in Brees absence, operating with Taysom Hill under center. A good sign for them with Brees’ retirement in March.

They still have one of the top running backs in the league in Alvin Kamara and a top-five defense. A defense that held the Panthers to 111 rushing yards in their two games last season, while also forcing five interceptions off of Carolina quarterbacks in their season finale. Divisional matchups tend to be close ones, but the Saints pull it out over Carolina.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR Michael Thomas vs CB Jaycee Horn

WEEK THREE: AWAY AT HOUSTON TEXANS (W) 

There is a strong chance that Houston could be picking first overall in the 2022 draft. With that being said, the Panthers should walk right into NRG Stadium on Thursday Night Football and leave with a W.

Christian Mccaffrey should have a field day against the league’s worst run defense, having given up 160.2/yards a game on the ground in 2020. Houston has done little in the draft and free agency to address that.

Panthers win easily and quarterback Sam Darnold finds himself with a winning record after week three for the first time in his career.

Noteworthy Matchup: Edge Haason Reddick vs LT Laremy Tunsil

WEEK FOUR: AWAY AT DALLAS COWBOYS (W) 

Timing is everything, even in football. And this week four matchup has the Panthers catching the Cowboys at the right time. Dallas opens the season against the defending champs on the road in Tampa. Then, flies to the opposite side of the country to play a tough Chargers team. Then, home on a Monday night against division rival Philadelphia.

Carolina will have an extended practice week after their Thursday night thumping in Houston and will catch Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliot on a short week. What would likely have been an offensive onslaught from Dallas could turn out to be a knockdown drag-out battle in Big D.

The Panthers escape a worn-down Cowboys team and go 2-0 in the state of Texas.

Noteworthy Matchup: RB Christian McCaffrey vs. LB Micah Parsons

WEEK FIVE: HOME VS PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (W)

The Eagles, most likely, will be coming off a loss to the juggernaut Chiefs and looking to right the ship in Charlotte. Unfortunately for them, they’ll be running into a Panthers team that’s found their identity in the running game. Also, a strong trio of Robby Anderson, DJ Moore, and rookie Terrace Marshall will be emerging in their passing attack.

Defensively the Panthers face a quarterback in Jalen Hurts whose seat should begin to warm a little with the Eagles struggling out of the gate. Hurts has reunited with wide receiver Devonta Smith, who provides an instant vertical threat in the Eagles’ offense. If the Panthers are smart they’ll use cornerback Jaycee Horn on Smith as often as possible – One of the few corners to limit Smith in his college campaign.

Panthers win by a hair.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR Devonta Smith vs. CB Jaycee Horn

WEEK SIX: HOME VS MINNESOTA VIKINGS (L) 

Last season, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings were down 27-10 going into the fourth quarter of their game against the Panthers. Carolina safety Jeremy Chinn had all but ensured a victory while simultaneously placing his name in rookie of the year talks after two fumble return touchdowns. However, the fourth quarter wrote something like an Atlanta Falcons novel, as the Vikings put up 18 points in the final frame to win by a point.

This time around the Vikings take better care of the football and take down the Panthers as they continue to vie for contention in the NFC North.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR Robby Anderson vs. CB Patrick Peterson

WEEK SEVEN: AWAY AT NEW YORK GIANTS (L)

After a rough home loss to Minnesota, the Panthers travel to New Jersey and run into a buzzsaw in the form of the New York Football Giants. Saquon Barkley is revving up his comeback player of the year tour and launching an assault on NFL defenses around the league.

Carolina’s defense has trouble stopping him in week seven and loses their second straight.

Noteworthy Matchup: TE Evan Engram vs S Jeremy Chinn

WEEK EIGHT: AWAY AT ATLANTA FALCONS (W)  

The first of two meetings this season comes at a pivotal time for Carolina. Trying to keep pace with Tampa Bay and New Orleans, the Panthers absolutely need a win against the Falcons, who have yet to establish an offensive identity. Relying heavily on their defense, the Panthers should get a win here by disrupting the Falcons passing attack with the absence of Julio Jones.

In his first chance to put up big numbers against his former team, running back Mike Davis should have a decent game on the ground against Carolina, but it won’t be enough to get Atlanta a win. The Panthers will improve to 5-3 on the season.

Noteworthy Matchup: TE Kyle Pitts vs Jeremy Chinn

WEEK NINE: HOME VS NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (L)  

The Patriots will have spent the previous seven weeks of the season trying to prove that their lost 2020 was a fluke and they’re back to the Patriot Way of winning.

It’s hard to say, at this point, who will be under center for the Patriots with Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones in a position battle. But this matchup is about who’s under center for the Panthers. Sam Darnold is 0-3 against Bill Belichick and has been outscored 99-17 in those contests.

I don’t think Darnold will solve the Belichick riddle here and the Panthers lose.

Noteworthy Matchup: Edge Matthew Judon and LT Cameron Erving

WEEK TEN: AWAY AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (L) 

This will no doubt be a battle of two teams fighting for relevancy in their respective divisions. At this point, the Cardinals are the more talented team and their defense has picked up some much-needed help in JJ Watt and top draft pick Zaven Collins.

After nine solid games, cornerback Jaycee Horn gets his welcome to the NFL moment as Deandre Hopkins dominates. This trip to Arizona has the Panthers coming up empty and drawing even in the standings.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR Rondale Moore vs CB AJ Bouye

WEEK ELEVEN: HOME VS. WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (W)  

The Panthers return from Arizona to play the Football Team in week eleven and the south there isn’t anything quite like home cooking. The magic will have run out for Ryan Fitzpatrick in Washington. He’ll have his patented multi-turnover game and the Panthers’ defense will have their strongest outing of the season.

This could definitely be a defensive battle with reigning defensive rookie of the year Chase Young and first-round pick Jamin Davis in the Washington front seven.

Panthers pull out the win late in the fourth quarter.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR Curtis Samuel vs Former Team

WEEK TWELVE: AWAY AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (L)  

The last thing the Panthers want to do is go into their Bye week with a loss and 6-6 record, but unfortunately, that’s what happens in Miami. The Dolphins will have Will Fuller back from his suspension and the speedy game-changer Jaylen Waddle aiding sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Brian Flores’ defense is full of playmakers and that includes All-Pro Xavien Howard who led the NFL in both interceptions (10) and passes defended (20).

Bad news for Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold as he’s thrown 10 interceptions against Miami in his short career.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR DJ Moore vs Xavien Howard

WEEK THIRTEEN: BYE 

Much needed bye week for the Panthers in week thirteen. A chance for Matt Rhule and company to relax a little… unless they peak ahead to their final four weeks.

WEEK FOURTEEN: HOME VS ATLANTA FALCONS (W) 

The Panthers will be at home and coming off of a week’s rest. The Falcons will be walking into Bank of America Stadium after a likely beating at the hands of the Champion Buccaneers. A combination that favors a Carolina team that is 2-8 against Atlanta since 2016. Christian McCaffrey takes over in front of the Charlotte home crowd and lifts the Panthers to their first sweep of the Falcons in eight years.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR Calvin Ridley vs CB Jaycee Horn

WEEK FIFTEEN: AWAY AT BUFFALO BILLS (L) 

The Panthers will need a win in Buffalo to keep their slim playoff chances alive. Unfortunately, Bills quarterback Josh Allen will most likely be well on his way to another all-pro season. After years and years of mediocrity, the Bills are now an AFC power and they have no plans on letting the reigns go quite yet.

A late-season tilt with Buffalo is a case of timing that works against Carolina this time. The Bills averaged 40.4 points a game the last five weeks of the 2020 regular season, all wins.

Buffalo runs away in this one.

Noteworthy Matchup: QB Josh Allen vs Others In The MVP Race

WEEK SIXTEEN: HOME VS TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (L) 

Tom Brady has taken the time out of terrorizing the AFC East to torment the NFC as a whole. It took a while for him to get his sea legs (pirate joke, har har), but once he did, the Bucs ran the table. By Week 16, Brady and company should be the top seed in the NFC and could be flirting with an unblemished record.

The Panthers should give the Bucs everything they can handle, but in the end the Bucs will prevail. A defense that held Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City to just nine points should have no problem limiting Carolina and Sam Darnold.

Panthers lose respectably here.

Noteworthy Matchup: RB Christian McCaffrey vs LB Devin White

WEEK SEVENTEEN: AWAY AT NEW ORLEANS (L)  

The Saints are 16-4 at home in games Alvin Kamara has played in. That record should improve this season and a week seventeen game against Carolina will definitely help. New Orleans will be fighting for a playoff spot at this point in the season and can’t afford to lose at home to a pesky Panthers squad.

If they’re to keep pace with the rest of the playoff hopefuls in the NFC, they’ll treat this late-season contest like a playoff game and pull out all of the stops.

The Saints win handily.

Noteworthy Matchup: WR DJ Moore vs CB Marshon Lattimore

WEEK EIGHTEEN: AWAY AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (L)  

Bruce Arians may rest his starters to prepare for the playoffs. But if they have any contenders nipping at their heels for the top seed, Brady will be out there along with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Bad news for the reeling Panthers whose season is over and the effort may be at a minimum. After playing them tough two weeks prior, the Panthers get blown out and the Bucs starters exit early in the fourth quarter.

Noteworthy Matchup: QB Tom Brady vs. HC Bruce Arians Playing Time Limits

FINAL WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: 7-10

A solid record for a team that still needs work roster-wise. And who also just shipped out a low turnover quarterback for one who coughs it up consistently. A few of these games could definitely go either way!

Not drafting a quarterback in the first round of the draft means this team believes in Darnold to be the guy. Let’s see how long of a leash he’s given. They could still add a veteran to push him in training camp or after roster cuts.

Panthers fans should keep expectations low and if they overachieve, be pleasantly surprised.

After the preseason, we’ll do this again and have more way-too-early predictions for other teams at E2G Sports as the summer rolls along!

What do you think about the schedule and potential record, Panthers fans? Do you think they get more than seven wins? Think they put up a better fight in the NFC South?

 

MLB: This week in the AL East – 6/7