- Christian McCaffrey has the potential to be a dynamic running mate for Cam Newton. Will his performance in his second season with the Panthers be the biggest X-factor for the offense?
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Panthers 2018 win total: 9 (over +150, under -170)
Panthers 2017 record: 11-5
Key offseason acquisitions: RB C.J. Anderson, DT Dontari Poe, S Da’Norris Searcy, OT Jeremiah Sirles, WR Torrey Smith, OC Norv Turner, WR Jarius Wright
Key offseason losses: S Jairus Byrd, S Kurt Coleman, DE Charles Johnson, DT Star Lotulelei, OG Andrew Norwell, RB Jonathan Stewart, DC Steve Wilkes, CB Daryl Worley
Five things to keep in mind before betting the Panthers’ win total
1. Cam Newton is one of those quarterbacks who’s a playoff contender unto himself. He’s also as unique as they come, with his rushing just as critical to Carolina’s success as his passing. Newton hasn’t thrown for more than 4,000 yards since his rookie year and has topped 25 touchdowns once. Add in his rushing numbers, though, and he has been responsible for at least 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in four of the five seasons he has played all 16 games. Newton gets it done in a different way than every other top-tier quarterback, but he gets it done nonetheless.
2. Christian McCaffrey could be a potentially dynamic running mate for Newton. It isn’t hard to look around at the most successful offenses in the league, observe what they do when they’re at their best and see a way for Newton and McCaffrey to be unstoppable for stretches of the season. The question is whether McCaffrey can do enough as a traditional runner to remain on the field for 20-plus touches per game, or if C.J. Anderson will have to handle the bulk of the dirty work.
3. There’s a wide range of outcomes for Newton’s pass-catchers. You can look at Devin Funchess, D.J. Moore and Greg Olsen, and see a receiver set to break out, a rookie with a high ceiling set to contribute immediately and one of the league’s best tight ends. You could also see a receiver not quite capable of being a true No. 1, a rookie who has had a nondescript summer and a 33-year-old tight end coming off a broken foot that cost him nine games. The success of this group will go a long way toward determining how successful the Panthers are this year.
4. This remains a fearsome defense stacked with talent on every level. The Panthers ranked third in the league in sacks and sack rate last year, with Julius Peppers, Mario Addison and Kawann Short responsible for 29.5 sacks. To that front four they added Dontari Poe, who has long been one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league. Luke Kuechly is still a force in the middle, flanked by long-time teammate Thomas Davis (though he will start the season with a four-game suspension) and 2015 first-round pick Shaq Thompson. The secondary lacks star power but is deep after adding safety Da’Norris Searcy along with rookie corners Donte Jackson and Rashaan Gaulden. The front seven, and particularly the front four, is what will carry this defense.
5. The NFC South may be the best division in football after producing three 10-win teams last year, all of which went to the playoffs. It’s the Panthers, though, that have the worst odds of winning the division, trailing the Saints and Falcons. They match up with the NFC East and AFC North, with road games in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and a second-place schedule nets them matchups with the Lions and Seahawks. There aren’t many pushover games on the schedule, and a Week 4 bye could have them running on fumes during a late-season stretch where they play six games against the Steelers, Lions, Seahawks, Falcons and Saints (twice) in eight weeks.
PICK: UNDER 9 wins
Other NFL team betting previews: Lions, Ravens, Patriots, Jets, Vikings, Bills, Raiders, Cowboys, Texans, Broncos, 49ers, Steelers, Cardinals, Browns, Buccaneers, Bengals, Giants, Saints, Packers, Falcons, Chiefs, Bears, Chargers, Dolphins, Eagles, Seahawks