Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, September 12, 2016 at 10:45 AM
Everything seemed to be in place for the Carolina Panthers to make a strong statement to start the season on Thursday Night in Denver. The Panthers had a huge revenge factor in their favor after last year's Super Bowl loss to the Broncos. Carolina had a huge experience factor working for them with, Denver playing a first-year starter in Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Oddsmakers installed Carolina as a three-point favorite on the road, a number indicating that Vegas saw Carolina as nearly a touchdown better on a neutral field. And yet the Panthers blew a ten-point lead and lost outright 21-20.
Was this just one bad game? Was it a case of Denver being better than expected? Or did it signify something deeper, that perhaps Carolina might not be ready to meet what are lofty expectations for 2016. The Panthers are a top-heavy (-200) favorite to win a fourth straight NFC South title. They're 13-2 to go back to the Super Bowl and the price is a short 10-1 for Carolina to take the next step and win it all. They looked nothing like that sort of team on Thursday Night.
The Panthers had a myriad of problems that were on display. Even during last year's dominant 15-1 regular season they had problems on the perimeter of their offensive line. That continued in this game, particularly in the case of right tackle Mike Remmers who was awful.
Observers wondered how much Carolina would miss departed corner Josh Norman. The early returns indicate his absence will be significant—James Bradberry was woefully inadequate on the corner and the fact Carolina was unable to hold a lead against a novice quarterback speaks for itself.
There was a lack of depth at receiver last year and not much evidence to suggest this year will be different. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen were the top-heavy focal points of the passing game, with no one else catching more than one pass.
Those were at least anticipated problems. But surely Carolina's defensive front seven could be expected to dominate, right? Wrong. While linebacker Luke Kuechly turned in his usual outstanding performance, the Panthers lost the battle at the line of scrimmage consistently and got a poor game from linebacker Thomas Davis. The end result was Denver gaining over five yards a pop on the ground and taking the heat of Siemian.
Carolina wasn't a perfect team last year, but Cam Newton's MVP year covered up for the flaws. That wasn't the case on Thursday. Newton's stat line was a pedestrian 18/33 for 194 yards.
We've seen Super Bowl losers play below expectations in the following year before. The next two weeks provide Carolina a good chance to get back on track, with home games against the 49ers and Vikings. If the Panthers don't look good in those games they'll go into stretch of three straight weeks against NFC South rivals with the divisional race being up for grabs. That means money could be made on the underdogs. Let's watch Carolina closely these next two weeks.