The NFL released the Carolina Panthers’ 2020 schedule on Thursday. The team finished 5-11 last season and 7-9 the season before, enduring eight-game losing streaks to close out both campaigns.
Carolina suffered major losses on both sides of the ball this offseason. Cam Newton is now a free agent, Luke Kuechly retired, and Greg Olsen was signed by the Seahawks. The Panthers will also have to restore a defense that lost nine of its 11 starters from 2019.
However, owner David Tepper has hired head coach Matt Rhule to lead a rebuild like he did so successfully at Temple and Baylor. In addition, Tepper picked up Teddy Bridgewater and signed Christian McCaffrey to a four-year, $64 million extension, making him the highest-paid running back in league history.
Rhule did everything he could to fortify the team’s defense through the draft, selecting a league-record seven defensive players. This was also the first time in the modern era that one team used all of their picks on defense.
Defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos should form a deadly duo on the front line while safety Jeremy Chinn could also contribute right away.
McCaffrey and Bridgewater will spearhead an offense that, while it may not stand up to its fellow NFC South competitors, will cause some problems for defenses in 2020. New addition Robby Anderson will provide much-needed speed on the outside while fellow receivers like D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel should continue to make defenders miss in the open field.
The arrival of stars like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Todd Gurley make the NFC South arguably the best division in the league right now. The Panthers will no longer be able to roll over the oft-incompetent Falcons and Buccaneers, and the Saints are poised for yet another postseason run. Carolina will likely struggle in their six divisional games.
On the other hand, the rest of the Panthers’ schedule isn’t nearly as intimidating. They open up at home against the Raiders in Week 1, and they’ll also face the Cardinals, Bears, Lions, and Broncos in Charlotte. A road game against the Chargers in Week 3 and a Week 16 grudge match against former head coach Ron Rivera and the Redskins in D.C. also stand out as winnable games.
With that said, growing pains are inevitable as Carolina’s new players and coaches build team chemistry, and that could affect their performance against elite opponents like the Chiefs, Vikings, and Packers, all three of whom the Panthers face on the road.
Carolina’s 2020-21 season is more likely to end in another tailspin rather than a surprising postseason berth, but the team could make a real run in a year or two if Rhule continues to draft well and develop young players.
Record Prediction: 7-9