Eyeing Up the Enemy: Carolina Panthers

Bob Rose

The New Orleans Saints will return from their Week Six bye to host a divisional rival in the Carolina Panthers in Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season. It will be the 51st regular-season meeting and 52nd overall showdown between the Saints and Panthers with New Orleans holding a 26-25 series lead. The hard-fought rivalry has been an even split when the game has been played in New Orleans, with each team holding 13 victories. The Saints have won the only postseason matchup between them, a 31-26 first-round Wild Card triumph on 1/7/18 in New Orleans. New Orleans has won seven of its last nine home games against the Panthers and swept the season series last year.

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Dec 17, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks to pass as New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina will have a fresh look in 2020. Gone are longtime QB Cam Newton and head coach Ron Rivera, replaced by former New Orleans backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and first-time NFL coach Matt Rhule. The Panthers made several other changes on both sides of the ball to a team that lost its last eight games of 2019. Carolina's new faces and coaching staff hope to climb out of the NFC South's basement.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Dec 30, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) runs against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2019 Record: 5-11 (4th place; NFC South)

Head Coach: Matt Rhule (1st season with the team)

2019 Offensive Statistics

  • 21.3 points/game (20th in the NFL)
  • Total Yards = 19th
  • Passing Yards = 20th
  • Rushing Yards = 14th

2019 Defensive Statistics

  • 29.4 points/game (31st)
  • Total Yards = 23rd
  • Passing Yards = 13th
  • Rushing Yards = 29th

Offseason Losses: Cam Newton (QB), Kyle Allen (QB), Chris Hogan (WR), Jarius Wright (WR), Greg Olsen (TE), Trai Turner (G), Gerald McCoy (DT), Dontari Poe (DT), Vernon Butler (DT), Mario Addison (DE), Luke Kuechly (LB), James Bradberry (CB), Ross Cockrell (CB), Eric Reid (S)

Offseason Additions: Teddy Bridgewater (QB), P.J. Walker (QB), Keith Kirkwood (WR), Robby Anderson (WR), Pharaoh Cooper (WR), Seth Roberts (WR), Russell Okung (T), Tahir Whitehead (LB), Eli Apple (CB)

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Dec 29, 2019; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) runs after a reception during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

2019 RECAP and 2020 FORECAST

Mounting injuries limited QB Cam Newton to two games in his ninth and final season, with the team drafted him 1st overall in 2011. QB Kyle Allen could not sustain his early success and was limited by the mostly mediocre weapons around him. RB Christian McCaffrey has been the exception for the team. McCaffrey is the Panthers' most productive weapon by far over his 3-Yr career. McCaffrey became just the third player in NFL history to have over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season when he eclipsed both barriers last year. He has been one of the league's most dangerous offensive players, and 3rd-year WR D.J. Moore established himself as a top receiving threat for the Panthers. Moore finished 2019 with 1,175 receiving yards and is considered one of the game's rising stars. 

Carolina revamped its entire receiving corps around Moore this offseason by adding former Jets star WR Robby Anderson, former Saints reserve WR Kirkwood, the speedster Cooper, and experienced depth with Roberts to go along with their young TE Ian Thomas. The Panthers abysmal offensive line hopes for better play up front after giving up 58 sacks a year ago but only added a declining veteran in Okung to the unit this offseason.

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Dec 29, 2019; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) with the ball as Carolina Panthers linebacker Brian Burns (53) pressures in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Panther's once-formidable defense crumbled to shambles in 2019, leading the team to use all of their draft picks on defensive talent. They took DT Derrick Brown with the seventh overall pick hoping to restore a once-powerful interior line. At the same time, they expect their 2nd round pick Yetur Gross-Matos to team with promising second-year DE Brian Burns to supply a pass rush from the edges. 

Veteran LB Tahir Whitehead has impossibly large shoes to fill at linebacker after the retirement of Kuechly but is an athletic defender who should team with Shaq Thompson to form a solid unit. CB Donte Jackson is one of the most underrated cover players in the league, and the Panthers added former Saints starting CB Eli Apple to team up with him. Tre Boston is a reliable free safety, but Carolina has several questions on the back end they hope will be addressed by three draft choices.

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Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) catches a pass against Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry (24) during the second quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Saints QB Drew Brees is 15-10 against Carolina as New Orleans quarterback, including an 8-5 record against them at home. The Panthers have not been able to contain Saints wideout Michael Thomas or running back Alvin Kamara, who have scored a combined 12 touchdowns in eight meetings against them. Additional offensive weapons like RB Latavius Murray, TE Jared Cook, WR Emmanuel Sanders, and QB/All-Purpose Taysom Hill will further challenge the remade Carolina defense. In contrast, the talented New Orleans offensive line could control play upfront.

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Oct 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs with the ball past New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) to score a touchdown during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A powerful New Orleans defensive front could make life miserable for their former teammate Bridgewater against a questionable Panther offensive line. All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan has 10 sacks in 19 career games against Carolina and leads the disruptive Saints defensive line. McCaffrey is difficult to contain for any NFL defense, but New Orleans will limit his impact with athletic play from LB Demario Davis and LB Alex Anzalone. The defense would be further aided in their efforts to contain McCaffrey if CB Marshon Lattimore and CB Janoris Jenkins can bottle up Carolina wideouts. Moore and Anderson allow them to design more intricate and aggressive defensive packages.

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Nov 24, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws against the Carolina Panthers during the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina and New Orleans have had an underrated but intense rivalry since the Panthers 1995 entry into the league. The Panthers are now in a rebuilding mode after replacing their head coach and two cornerstones of the franchise in Newton and Kuechly along with several defensive starters while the Saints are expected to be among the league's top teams. New Orleans would be wise to come prepared in both matchups against their bitter rival, with the rematch coming in the season finale, to record two crucial division wins. 

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Kyle T. Mosley
Kyle T. Mosley

Editor

In 2 years Matty Ice may be the Senior guy in the NFC South.


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