The regular season is finally here, and it's time to see what the 2019 Carolina Panthers are capable of.
What better way to find out, then an opening day matchup with the Los Angeles Rams at home. The Rams are coming off of a Super Bowl appearance, and they were one of the most dominant teams all last season after finishing with a 13-3 record.
On the flipside, the Panthers finished with a 7-9 record and weren't able to live up to their expectations. This was partly due to Cam Newton's shoulder injury, but the quarterback position wasn't the only weak spot.
Carolina spent the offseason making a plethora of upgrades, and they've seemed to significantly improve the roster. Now, it's time to see if the talent on paper can translate to the field.
Here are four things to look out for in the Week 1 matchup:
Cam Newton's health
Unfortunately, this is always going to be the most important thing to look out for, until Newton can prove to be fully healthy.
Newton came off of his second shoulder this offseason and progressed tremendously throughout training camp. He was throwing deep passes with ease, and he even developed a new throwing motion that looked more crisp. Although this was just in a practice setting, it was enough to believe that he'd be fully healthy for Week 1.
This whole storyline was buried after Newton went down in his third preseason game against the New England Patriots with a mid-foot sprain. He only played 11 snaps in the game and he got sacked twice. Carolina doesn't have the most reliable backup quarterback situation, so this foot injury was a huge deal.
Newton seems to be healthy and ready to go for Week 1 now, but his offensive line wasn't proving to be reliable during the preseason. If that is true during Week 1 against the Rams -- Cam will be in a lot of trouble.
Offensive line against Aaron Donald
The offensive line will simply be the x-factor for the Panthers this season.
Everything will begin in the trenches, and the Panthers can't afford to let Newton get hit as much as he did last season. The offensive line was horrendous last year, and it was proven after Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen both in the final two games.
The Panthers regained some health on the line this season and brought in additions like Matt Paradis and Greg Little. Taylor Moton and Trai Turner will hold down the right side, and the only concern right now is Newton's blindside. Daryl Williams and Greg Van Roten will have to cover up the blindside while Little goes through concussion protocol.
All this being said, they have to quickly find cohesion and chemistry in this Week 1 matchup. The Rams boast the back-to-back defensive player of the year -- Aaron Donald -- who is a nightmare of opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks.
This offensive line has to do everything possible to keep Newton healthy and to help establish the run game.
Brian Burns' ability to step up
The Panthers drafted Brian Burns with the No. 16 overall pick in this year's draft, and he's proven to be a special player during the offseason.
Burns' length and freaky ability to the quarterback is well known at this point, but is he ready to start the first game? At this point it doesn't matter if he's ready or not, because it's not likely that newly acquired Bruce Irvin (hip injury) will be ready for Week 1.
Carolina was able to reboot their defensive line by adding guys to the mix like Burns, Irvin, Gerald McCoy, Christian Miller and Marquis Haynes. This sounded like one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL on paper, but this unit didn't show up in a dominant way in the preseason.
Except for Burns, who made use of every snap that he was on the field. He was tied at third for the league's most sacks this preseason after recording four. He was able to quickly rack up two sacks in his first preseason game, and he looked dominant doing it.
Now, it's time for Burns to prove that he can get to Jared Goff and help slow down one of the best offenses in football.
Joey Slye in a regular season game
Joey Slye continued to make headlines this offseason.
He's the undrafted kicker that played in all four preseason games and only missed one field goal -- after hitting three from over 50 yards. He's also the guy that casually hit a 70-yarder in practice, and has proven to have unlimited range on the field.
But, can he sustain this under regular and postseason pressure?
Only time will tell, but he'll have a shot at it either way. The Panthers placed their starting kicker Graham Gano on injured reserve with an injury on his left knee. Gano is out for the season, and it's Slye's time to shine.
The Panthers have placed a ton of trust in Slye, and Sunday's matchup will be his first chance to prove his worth in the NFL.