The Carolina Panthers lost seven games in a row down the stretch in 2018 but now have a clean slate after their 2019 schedule was released Wednesday.
The health of quarterback Cam Newton is paramount. The 29-year-old 2015 NFL MVP nursed an ailing shoulder throughout 2018, eventually sitting out the final two games. Carolina finished the season 7-9 and third in the NFC South.
Carolina Panthers Schedule 2019
Week 1: Sept. 8 vs LA Rams, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 2: Sept. 12 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:20 p.m. ET on NFL Network
Week 3: Sept. 22 vs Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 4: Sept. 29 vs Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 5: Oct. 6 vs Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 6: Oct. 13 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (London), 9:30 a.m. ET on NFL Network
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Oct. 27 vs San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 9: Nov. 3 vs Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 10: Nov. 10 vs Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 11: Nov. 17 vs Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 12: Nov. 24 vs New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 13: Dec. 1 vs Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 14: Dec. 8 vs Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 15: Dec. 15 vs Seattle Seahawks, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 16: Dec. 22 vs Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 17: Dec. 29 vs NO Saints, 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Newton underwent shoulder surgery in January. In February, the dynamic signal-caller uploaded a vlog detailing how scared he felt while navigating his injury throughout the 2018 season. The Panthers were off to an impressive start that felt like a continuation of their 11-5 2017.
As the season went on, though, Newton’s shoulder wore down, and Carolina fell apart.
The good news is ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Feb. 3 Newton could be ready to return to the field as early as training camp.
The bad news for the Panthers is all of the faces who won’t be suiting up for Carolina anymore.
For starters, center Ryan Kalil will no longer be the one hiking footballs to the quarterback, as he retired after 12 seasons in the NFL. The 34-year-old was replaced by former Denver Broncos center Matt Paradis through free agency.
Three-time All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers retired, too, after registering 28 quarterback hits and 16 sacks the last two seasons for the Panthers. Mario Addison, who led the team with nine sacks last season, will carry the line alongside the developing Bryan Cox Jr.
Linebacker Thomas Davis, the all-time franchise leader in career tackles (1,258), signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in free agency after spending 14 seasons in Carolina. While the 36-year-old will be missed, the Panthers still have one of the best linebackers in the game in All-Pro Luke Kuechly.
Head coach Ron Rivera has two workhorses in Kuechly and dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey. The deciding variable will be the depth around them.
Last season, McCaffrey accounted for 13 of the Panthers’ 46 total touchdowns. Outside of him, tight end Greg Olsen was placed on injured reserve for a second consecutive year because of foot problems in 2018, and wide receiver Devin Funchess was signed in free agency by the Indianapolis Colts.
Heading into 2019, Newton will continue to lean on McCaffrey and have receiver D.J. Moore returning as a first option. Curtis Samuel, entering his third season, improved massively from his first season to his second. The Panthers need him to continue that trajectory in 2019.
On April 12, Carolina addressed their receiving needs by signing former NE Patriots receiver Chris Hogan to a one-year deal, and it will be interesting to see how his skillset could open up the offense.
The team to beat in the NFC South is New Orleans, and the Saints have mostly decimated Carolina since 2017.
In 2017, they swept the regular season and beat the Panthers in the NFC Wild Card Game. Last season, Carolina won against New Orleans in a throwaway Week 17 game in which neither Drew Brees nor Newton played.
This season, divisional games will be as crucial as ever, even though Carolina has to travel to London for in-division game against Tampa Bay in Week 6.
The Panthers will have only two road games in the Eastern time zone—traveling to Arizona, San Francisco, Houston, Indianapolis and Green Bay. However, Carolina has lucked out by hosting both the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks rather than having to travel.
On paper, the Rams game looks to be the most challenging matchup for Carolina this season. L.A. is coming off of a Super Bowl LIII appearance and season overall that crowned them one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.
Countering the Rams to balance out the Panthers’ schedule are Washington and Arizona.
Washington’s quarterback situation is a toss-up, and the Cardinals are coming off a league-worst 3-13 season.
As the saying goes, you can only beat the teams placed in front of you, and Carolina has to take care of these two so that potential losses to the L.A.s of the world and divisional battles aren’t final blows to the season as a whole.