The NFL released the 2021 schedules for all 32 teams on Wednesday night and the Carolina Panthers will open their slate up by hosting the New York Jets. Yes, it's May, but why hold back our predictions for the upcoming season? Of course, I will redo these closer to the start of the season when the rosters are more finalized but I went ahead and gave my way-too-early predictions for the Panthers 2021 season.
Week 1: vs New York Jets - Win (1-0)
Sam Darnold will get the chance to face his old team in the first game of the season. He could come out a little amped up but I expect him to have a solid debut as a Panther. Darnold knows more about the Jets than the Jets know about him thanks to the coaching change. Zach Wilson is an intriguing quarterback but Carolina's pass rush will get to him early and often and rattle him in his welcome to the NFL.
Week 2: vs New Orleans Saints - Win (2-0)
The Panthers haven't had much success lately against the Saints but I'm going to go with the upset here. I'm not sold on Taysom Hill and I wouldn't be surprised that if at some point, they turn to Jameis Winston. Carolina uses the home-field advantage and takes the first game between the two.
Week 3: at Houston Texans - Win (3-0)
Houston is a mess right now, plain and simple. I would say that it's very unlikely Deshaun Watson will still be with the organization by the start of the season, meaning Carolina could see either Tyrod Taylor or rookie Davis Mills. No way the Texans can keep pace with the Panthers without Watson.
Week 4: at Dallas Cowboys - Loss (3-1)
Traveling to Texas back-to-back weeks is going to be challenging and a healthy Dak Prescott could give the Panthers' defense some problems. Dallas hands Carolina its first loss of the season in Week 4.
Week 5: vs Philadelphia Eagles - Win (4-1)
Philly and Carolina are in a very similar position. They both have young quarterbacks that they hope to build around and are both probably a couple of years away from being taken seriously as a playoff contender. The Panthers are a little closer to taking that next step, while the Eagles will struggle to compete in some games.
Week 6: vs Minnesota Vikings - Win (5-1)
Carolina was leading Minnesota last year 21-10 after three quarters of play and was on the way to victory. However, the defense fell apart as did the offense which led to a 28-27 loss. The Panthers get their revenge and continue their hot start.
Week 7: at New York Giants - Loss (5-2)
This is going to be a big year for Daniel Jones in New York. If he doesn't show any further development, the Giants may start searching for a new option. Their 6-10 record in 2020 is very deceiving, they're a much better team than their record indicates. This will be a tight one but I'll go with the Giants.
Week 8: at Atlanta Falcons - Loss (5-3)
The theme for Atlanta - start off decent, fade in the 2nd half of the season. They will win come out on top the first time around and you have to imagine that Mike Davis will be excited to play this game against the Panthers.
Week 9: vs New England Patriots - Win (6-3)
Ah yes, Cam's return to Carolina. This should be a fun one. New England was very aggressive in free agency this offseason to surround Newton with more weapons which should make them a more competitive team. No way a Bill Belichick-coached team has back-to-back losing seasons. That said, I love Carolina's chances in this game.
Week 10: at Arizona Cardinals - Loss (6-4)
Kyler Murray should make the leap into being a top 10 quarterback in the NFL in 2021 which will make Arizona one of the toughest offenses in the league to slow down. Given that this game is in Week 10, the Cardinal offense will be clicking on all cylinders at this point.
Week 11: vs Washington Football Team - Loss (6-5)
Ron Rivera fell to his former team in last year's meeting, 20-13. With the addition of Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown, Washington should have more of an offense this season. On the other side of the ball, Washington has one of the best front sevens in the NFL. They'll control the line of scrimmage and limit the Panthers' ability to move the ball.
Week 12: at Miami Dolphins - Loss (6-6)
Miami made a lot of strides a year ago unexpectedly and now, many think they are a lock to make the playoffs. This is a tough matchup for Carolina and one that I don't see them winning. The additions of Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller V will give the Panthers' young secondary fits. Not to mention, DeVante Parker.
Week 13: BYE WEEK
Week 14: vs Atlanta Falcons - Win (7-6)
The bye week comes at a much-needed time after playing in 12 straight games. I don't see Atlanta sweeping the Panthers and this is about the time of year where things will begin to implode for them.
Week 15: at Buffalo Bills - Loss (7-7)
Aside from the Chiefs, the Bills might be the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They have talent and depth at just about every position and Josh Allen is one of the tougher quarterbacks to gameplan for. Going to Buffalo in December won't make things any easier. Give me the Bills here.
Week 16: vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Loss (7-8)
As much as I'd like to give the Panthers a home win against the defending Super Bowl champs, I just can't. This is a team that drafted a player in the 1st round to be a 2nd stringer/rotational linebacker. Joe Tryon is going to be really good down the line but he will be learning behind veterans. Oh yeah, and they return all 22 starters from last year's Super Bowl team.
Week 17: New Orleans Saints - Loss (7-9)
The Saints will be jostling for playoff position, making this game extremely important. They'll get their revenge from a Week 2 loss at Carolina.
Week 18: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Loss (7-10)
At this point, the Panthers have lost three straight games and six of their last seven. They won't have much to play for other than pride and I'm just going to go ahead and assume Tampa Bay will be just as good as they were two weeks prior, maybe better.
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