We’ll continue a series of opponent preview posts for the New Orleans Saints opponents in 2018. Next, another division opponent and a familiar foe from 2017: the Carolina Panthers. Bradley Smith of Cat Scratch Reader took some time to give us Saints fans the scoop on the team we beat 3 times last year.
Week 15: at the Carolina Panthers; Week 17: vs the Carolina Panthers
What were the biggest additions and/or subtractions (not via the draft) to the team’s roster from last year?
Biggest additions: Jarius Wright, Torrey Smith, CJ Anderson, Norv Turner
Biggest subtraction: Mike Shula
The Panthers added veteran speed and depth at wide receiver, which was easily their weakest position group on offense in 2017. They also added a 1000-yard running back on a 1-year ‘prove it’ deal to split carries with Christian McCaffrey, and an offensive coordinator who knows how to call the right play at the right time. Taking Mike Shula’s awful game management away from the offense should be a huge benefit to the Panthers in 2018, and with a fully healthy Cam Newton at the helm they should be prepared to compete for the NFC South crown this season.
What was the biggest surprise move the team made - or didn’t make - this offseason?
Letting Andrew Norwell walk in free agency was a big surprise to me. The Panthers rely on their ground attack for a majority of their offense, and Norwell has been one of the league’s best interior linemen over the last few years. Now, the Panthers will have to scramble to find a suitable replacement. Amini Silatolu is currently penciled in as the starter, which should make opposing defenses very happy as Silatolu is essentially an express lane to the quarterback, and for unknown reasons everyone on Earth knows this except for Ron Rivera. For depth, the Panthers drafted Taylor Moton last year, but he’s more of a tackle prospect than a guard. They signed Jeremiah Sirles to a 1-year deal, and they brought in around 73 UDFAs to compete in training camp -- but all of these options are purely unknowns at this point. So, the Panthers currently have to choose between a known problem (Silatolu) and an unknown (literally any other human being). Yeah, left guard’s gonna be an adventure this year because they wouldn’t pony up the cash to keep Norwell.
What is the biggest storyline heading into Week 1?
How will the new Panthers offense look under Norv Turner? Will the upgraded receiver corps actually make a difference? Can Cam Newton gel with his new receivers? Was Mike Shula really the problem all along?
What is the outlook for the team? Are the playoffs in sight?
Yes, the playoffs are in sight for the Panthers. They actually improved their weakest area from last season, and while the offensive line could be an issue -- I think the team is talented enough to compete for the NFC South title, and at the very least end up with a Wild Card spot. The Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons, but I think this might finally be the year they break that curse.
Final answer: what’s your prediction for the team’s final record?
I think this team is a lot like last year’s squad, and I can see them repeating their 11-5 tally from 2017. Whether that will be good enough to win the division, I don’t know... but we did win it with a 7-8-1 record in 2014 so anything’s possible in the NFL.
A big thanks to Bradley for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure you check out his work and the rest of the good folks at Cat Scratch Reader for tons of Panthers content. You can follow the Bradley on Twitter @bdubsmitty, Cat Scratch Reader @CatScratchReadr, and of course you can always follow me @dunnellz.
So what says you, you unbiased Saints fans? Can the Saints make it 5 in a row against Carolina? Vote in the poll. Explain in the comments. And make sure you also check out DraftDividends.com, a website for a new book I’m writing currently titled Draft Picks and Dividends: A Fantasy Football Player’s Guide to Understanding the Stock Market.
How will the Saints fare in the season series against the Panthers?
This poll is closed
Sweep! We’ve already beat them three in a row, let’s make it five!
Get swept - our streak comes to an end.
Win on the road, lose at home.
Lose on the road, win at home.