2019 NFL Power Rankings:
No. 21 Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton doesn’t own a single hat that could magically turn the 2019 Panthers into a playoff team. I haven’t been in his closet, and am not willing to engage in a hieroglyphics text exchanges for an opportunity at a gander. He just doesn’t.
Carolina is by no means a bad team. The schedule stands as a massive roadblock, preventing Newton and the Boys from greatness. New Orleans returns to the top of the division after being the worst call in NFL history away from beating Los Angeles in the 2018 NFC Championship. Tampa Bay should take a massive step forward with Bruce Arians whispering sweet nothings in Jameis Winston’s ear. And the Falcons are bound to rebound after an injury-riddled season a year ago. Getting out of the division alone should be a struggle, but the rest of the schedule looks even worse. They have dates against the Rams, Texans, Packers, Seahawks, and Colts -- all teams who should make the playoffs this year. Not many franchises are surviving that death march. I don’t care who you are.
I never thought I’d see Superman break down. Right now, I don’t know what to believe. A debilitating shoulder injury had our boy looking more like Clark Kent after a hot start to 2018. Following an offseason full of rehab and questions on whether he’d return the same player, Newton sprained his foot during Game 3 of the preseason, putting his return for the opener in limbo. There’s no way in hell Carolina moves the ball without Newton under center. Though Christian McCaffrey stands as the main target in the team’s passing attack, expectations are extremely high for second-year pass catcher DJ Moore and third-year Swiss-army-knife Curtis Samuel. Unlike in the past where Carolina focused on putting big-bodied targets on the outside the team’s looking to get the ball to its playmakers in space, which bodes well for Moore and Samuel, who received a heap of praise for his improved route running during the offseason.
There shouldn’t be a sliver of space for running backs to muscle through when playing against Carolina. The defensive front features enough beef to feed a steakhouse -- Kawann Short (315 pounds), Gerald McCoy (300 pounds), Vernon Butler (325 pounds) and last but not least Dontari Poe (346 pounds) -- and should open up one-on-one opportunities for pass rushers Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin and rookie sensation Brian Burns. And one of the league’s best linebacking corps in Shaq Thomas and Captain America aka Luke Kuechly. That should be a recipe for a division title, but it’s not.
Offensive Players to Watch: Curtis Samuel, DJ Moore, Ian Thomas
Defensive Players to Watch: Brian Burns, Gerald McCoy, Donte Jackson
Fantasy Players To Watch: Cam Newton, DJ Moore, Defense
Verdict: Like every other ballclub in the league, everything is contingent on health. The defense is loaded and should be stingy this year. There’s just too many questions on the other side of the ball. Can Cam stay healthy behind an offensive line that’s had issues staying on the field? Will Curtis Samuel make it through at least 15 games? How will the team hold up against one of the league’s tougher schedules? I don’t know, ladies and gents 7-9.