32 NFL Teams in 32 Days: Bryce Young and the Panthers Face a Ton of Questions

New coach Dave Canales and second-year quarterback Bryce Young have a long climb out of the NFC South cellar.
Young struggled in his rookie season after the Panthers made him the top pick in the 2023 draft
Young struggled in his rookie season after the Panthers made him the top pick in the 2023 draft / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
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Welcome to 32 teams in 32 days. To get us through the offseason, we’ll be taking a closer look at every team in the NFL, in order of projected 2024 win totals. Up next: the Panthers.

No team enters 2024 with more questions than the Carolina Panthers.

After going 2–15 last year, the Panthers changed up almost everything: new coach, new staff, big-name acquisitions on both sides of the ball and so on. Carolina’s biggest problem this offseason was the lack of its own first-round pick, which landed No. 1 but went to the Chicago Bears.

Now, with coach Dave Canales and second-year quarterback Bryce Young leading the way, Carolina starts its climb out of the NFC South cellar, hoping a revamped roster and a fresh set of teaching points will pave the way to success.

Biggest gamble this offseason: Hiring Dave Canales

This isn’t a slam or even a questioning of Canales. He did a terrific job as the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and deserved a chance. Still, hiring a first-time coach to take over the worst team in football is the definition of a gamble.

At 43 years old, Canales is charged with fixing Young, who threw just 11 touchdowns against 10 interceptions as a rookie. He also needs to get left tackle Ickey Ekwonu right after having a disastrous second season. 

Forget the record in Carolina this year. If Canales turns Young and Ekwonu around while giving the offense structure, 2024 will be a win for the Panthers.

Toughest stretch of the season: Weeks 12 to 15

If the Panthers are competitive throughout the first 10 games of the season, they’ll really be tested coming out of their Week 11 bye.

Carolina starts that stretch with a home date against the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs, then hosts the division-rival Buccaneers in their first matchup of the year. Afterward, it’s a trip to face the Philadelphia Eagles before coming home to welcome in the Dallas Cowboys.

While three of those four tilts are at Bank of America Stadium, they’re also all against playoff teams from last season, including three division winners. 

Breakout player to watch: WR Jonathan Mingo

Mingo is facing a bit of a roster crunch with the additions of veteran Diontae Johnson and first-round choice Xavier Legette, but his talent can’t go unnoticed. 

A second-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2023, Mingo had a solid rookie season with 43 receptions for 418 yards despite playing in an anemic offense. With Legette in his first year and Adam Thielen entering his age-34 campaign, there’s a world where Mingo ends up playing starter-level snaps and sees his production rise. 

It won’t be easy getting on the field amid a crowded receiver room, but betting on Mingo’s upside is a smart play.

Best-case scenario: Bryce Young improves, Panthers contend in the NFC South

Last season, Canales helped turn Baker Mayfield’s career around, earning him a three-year deal with the Buccaneers. Now, let’s see if he can do something similar with Young, who came out of Alabama with considerable hype only to flop as a rookie.

If Young plays well, the Panthers have a bevy of new talent to support him. This is a team that through trades or free agency acquired linebacker Josey Jewell, edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and D.J. Wonnum, receiver Diontae Johnson, guards Damien Lewis and Robert Hunt, safety Jordan Fuller, defensive end A’Shawn Robinson and corner Dane Jackson. 

With Young taking a big leap, Carolina could surprise.

Worst-case scenario: Young stagnates, Carolina has another one-year coach

Owner David Tepper is fast approaching the mantle for worst owner in sports. He hired Frank Reich last offseason only to fire him after 11 games. He then threw a drink on a fan in Jacksonville for having the audacity to let him know the Panthers stink.

If Young is clearly on the way to becoming an all-time bust, Tepper might lash out again and fire Canales, who could be the scapegoat for the entire situation. It’s an extreme worst-case scenario, but Tepper is an extreme owner. Nothing is off the table, especially when things aren’t going well.

Head coach-quarterback tandem ranking

No. 31: Dave Canales (32) and Bryce Young (28)

Canales is getting his first crack at being a head coach, while Young is already on his third, including interim coach Chris Tsbor. We’ll see whether Canales, who formerly worked as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, can get Young back on track. Last year, the No. 1 overall pick struggled horribly with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Sleeper fantasy pick: QB Bryce Young

Young, the top pick in the 2023 NFL draft, had a brutal rookie season. But was that because of him, or the lack of talent around him? If it was the latter, the team has taken steps to improve this offseason, trading for Johnson and drafting Jonathon Brooks and Legette. What’s more, Canales is an offensive mind who should help with Young’s development. —Michael Fabiano

Best bet: Bryce Young over 18.5 passing TDs at DraftKings

Young tossed just 11 scores in his rookie season despite playing 16 games, but I have optimism that Canales can help Young excel after Mayfield exceeded expectations (28 TD) in Tampa Bay. Only Bo Nix has a lower TD prop this season. I’m willing to bet the sophomore can get to 19. —Jennifer Piacenti 

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER.


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Matt Verderame

MATT VERDERAME

Matt Verderame is an NFL staff writer for Sports Illustrated. He hosts The Matt Verderame Show on Patreon; previously wrote for FanSided and Awful Announcing; and is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. A proud father of two girls and lover of all Italian food, Matt is an eternal defender of Rudy, the greatest football movie of all time.