The Panthers went 15-1 last season en route to winning the NFC South and eventually advancing to Super Bowl 50, when they lost to the Broncos. QB Cam Newton won the league’s MVP last season, and this year he is getting back WR Kelvin Benjamin, an offensive weapon who missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL he suffered in August.
On his way to earning MVP honors, Newton threw for 3,857 yards and 35 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. He also added 10 rushing touchdowns to his offensive output, with 636 yards on 132 carries. RB Jonathan Stewart was the team’s leading rusher, with 242 carries for 989 yards and 6 touchdowns in 13 games, his best numbers since 2009. TE Greg Olsen was the team’s best pass-catcher, with 77 receptions for 1,104 yards and 7 touchdowns. WR Ted Ginn Jr. was the leader at that position, catching 44 balls for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns. The defense was among the league’s best, giving up 308 points — sixth-fewest in the NFL — and tallying a league-best 24 interceptions.
The Panthers have a tough road ahead if they want to repeat the 15-1 performance they had last season. If Benjamin can return to the form he showed in his rookie season in 2014, he will provide another strong option in the passing game to complement Olsen, who is one of the best tight ends in the league. Having Stewart as the main option out of the backfield is always a concern because of durability issues he has had throughout his career. Even last year, when he had one of his best seasons, he missed three games.
Looking ahead to this year’s schedule, the Panthers get a shot at redemption on the opening night of the regular season, heading to Denver to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos in Week 1. They face another playoff team in the Vikings at home in Week 3. Coming off their Week 7 bye, the Panthers host the Cardinals in Week 8. After a Week 9 visit to Los Angeles to duel with the Rams, the Panthers return home in Week 10 to host the Chiefs. The team heads west in Weeks 12 and 13, with games against the Raiders and Seahawks, respectively. After visiting the Redskins for a Monday night game in Week 15, the schedule eases up a bit in the final two weeks, with a home game against the Falcons on deck for Week 16, followed by a Week 17 road game against QB Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers. Overall, it’s a fairly tough slate for the defending NFC champions, but I’m projecting them to match their record from last season, with another 15-1 record. Will they make a repeat Super Bowl appearance to go along with that record? We’ll find out in our playoff preview in a couple weeks.