5 games that will define the Carolina Panthers 2021 season

(Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports) Christian McCaffrey
(Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports) Christian McCaffrey /
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Carolina Panthers
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

Carolina Panthers vs. New York Jets (Week 1)

Easily the Carolina Panthers’ biggest move this offseason was the acquisition of quarterback Sam Darnold. Originally drafted by the New York Jets at No. 3 overall back in 2018, they traded their former top selection for three draft picks, including a second-rounder in 2022.

The Darnold trade came after just one year of the Panthers’ Teddy Bridgewater experiment, where the latter was a dismal 0-8 on potential game-winning or tying drives in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.

With Darnold now a Panther, the Jets drafted a new quarterback of their own, taking Zach Wilson out of BYU with the second pick.

Wilson’s debut alone will create a national buzz surrounding this Week 1 matchup. However, Darnold’s “revenge game” should also heighten the intrigue. Not to mention that it will mark the first time Panthers fans will see him in a game that actually counts.

Storylines aside, the season-opener is a game worth watching for the simple fact that it not only offers the first glimpse at the 2021 team, but it should also give Carolina an opportunity to start the season off right and earn an opening week victory – something they have not done since 2018.

Things to keep an eye on in the opener include of course Darnold’s performance against his old team, but the evolution of the defense should also be a key point of emphasis.

The Panthers elected to choose cornerback Jaycee Horn in the first round of this year’s draft, Jeremy Chinn is making a more traditional move to safety, with Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and the rest of the young defensive linemen should be ready to take another leap forward in 2021.