Though the Panthers looked underwhelming in their preseason campaign, I believe we will see marked improvements as soon as we get all of the starters healthy and allow our young players to gain more experience. The Panthers have the leagues toughest schedule in 2011 with their opponents winning over 55% of their games in 2010. The real reason the Panthers have the toughest schedule is beause they play in the NFC South, which is the toughest division in football. Here are my predictions for the 2011 Carolina Panthers:
- Week 1 @ Arizona Cardinals, LOSS: Arizona will want to get out to an early start showcasing their new franchise QB, Kevin Kolb. The young Panthers will have to work out some kinks but not in enough time to grab the victory.
- Week 2 vs. Green Bay Packers, LOSS: Carolina’s first home game of the season will find them playing against the defending Super Bowl champions. Green Bay is the most talented team in the league and Carolina will not be able to stop their fire power on offense or do much against their strong defense.
- Week 3 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, WIN: Carolina will gain their first victory of the 2011 season against the Jaguars. Jacksonville is a team still trying to find their identity and this game may be the first one in which Jaguar QB, Blaine Gabbert gets the starting nod. Home-field advantage is huge for the Panthers in this game.
- Week 4 @ Chicago Bears, WIN: All kinds of interesting story lines exist in this game. I believe the Panther coaching staff and players will want to come out and make a statement in Soldiers Field. Ron Rivera will be coaching against the team that let him walk without giving him a well-deserved contract extension and raise. The Panther offensive line will want to shut down Bears defensive end, Julius Peppers. But most of all, Greg Olsen will want to use a multiple-touchdown game to punch Bears’ Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz in the mouth and prove to the Bears that trading him was a major mistake.
- Week 5 vs. New Orleans Saints, LOSS: By this time the Saints offense will be well oiled and efficient. I just do not see any way that the Panthers can win this game even though it will be played in Charlotte.
- Week 6 @ Atlanta Falcons, LOSS: The Falcons are the team to beat in the NFC South and I have them going all the way to the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. Carolina’s youth will be no match for the Falcons’ experience.
- Week 7 vs. Washington Redskins, WIN: The Redskins are a mess, pure and simple. I believe the Redskins will compete with the Cincinnati Bengals for the worst NFL record in 2011. The fact that the game is being played in Charlotte gives the Panthers the distinct advantage here.
- Week 8 vs. Minnesota Vikings, WIN: Donovan McNabb is simply not the same quarterback as he was when he was playing in Andy Reid’s system. Minnesota lost a lot of talent following the 2010 season, much of which was not replaced. I would expect the Panthers defense to load the box to try to contain Adrian Peterson. On offense I would expect a high dose of Double Trouble to attack the Minnesota front seven which is missing some of the pieces they had in 2010.
- Week 9, Bye
- Week 10 vs. Tennessee Titans, WIN: To be quite honest, I am just not impressed with the Titans. It is possible by this time Jake Locker could be the starter for Tennessee and I would expect Rivera to take advantage of Locker’s inexperience by blitzing heavily. On offense, I would expect a balanced attack which will help Carolina win the game.
- Week 11 @ Detroit Lions, LOSS: If Matthew Stafford is healthy in this game, I believe the Lions will win. If Stafford is injured, which could be very likely, the Panthers could have the edge. It really all depends on the health of the Lions often-injured quarterback.
- Week 12 @ Indianapolis Colts, LOSS: Recent reports say that Peyton Manning is seeking a second opinion on his neck which is causing some to say that Manning may need a second procedure on his neck which could cost him the entire season. If that is the case, the Colts could be one of the worst teams in the NFL. If Manning does not play, this game will turn into a Panthers’ win. However, I am believing Manning will suit up for the purpose of this prediction.
- Week 13 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, LOSS: The Bucs may have been a flash in the pan in 2010, but there is no questioning the talent that they have accumulated over the past couple of seasons. Josh Freeman is climbing up the ladder of productive QBs in the NFL and has lots of weapons at his disposal. I do believe the game will be close, but I think eventually the Bucs will pull it out.
- Week 14 vs. Atlanta Falcons, LOSS: Unfortunately, the Panthers will be swept by their NFC South rivals in 2011. I would expect the Falcons to come into Charlotte firing on all cylinders because they will be playing for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
- Week 15 @ Houston Texans, LOSS: A lot of people consider the Houston Texans to be the sexy, Super Bowl dark-horse team of 2011. I don’t know if I believe that, but I do know that the Texans are a very talented football team. The Texans could be fighting for a top playoff spot by this time, so I do not see them letting up on the Panthers.
- Week 16 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WIN: Carolina will gain revenge for their week 13 loss in Tampa. By this time, Newton should be very comfortable in the Panthers system and I could see him throwing for over 300 yards in this game.
- Week 17 @ New Orleans Saints, WIN: Every team needs a statement game, this game will be the Panthers. The Panthers will show that they will be a team to be reckoned with for the next few seasons as they march into New Orleans and shock the Saints in a surprise victory. Ending the 2011 campaign with two consecutive victories against NFC South foes will give the Panther faithful reason to have hope for the future of the franchise.
Season at a glance:
Overall record, 7-9
Division record, 2-4
Home record, 5-3
Road record, 2-6