Carolina Panthers 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Wes Reynolds: The Panthers have missed the playoffs five seasons in a row. Owner David Tepper had seen Matt Rhule go 11-27 over two plus seasons and fired him after five games last season. Frank Reich was sacked in Indianapolis just one month later, but got another shot where he once was a player in Carolina. Bryce Young is the future in Carolina, but there are still questions about his size and durability. Eventually those will have to be answered.
Carolina has gotten way too used to having new quarterbacks and new head coaches. This year, they have both with No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young and Frank Reich. Andy Dalton was signed to backup and mentor Young, so he may start early in the season. Miles Sanders, off a Pro Bowl season, was also signed from Philadelphia to replace Christian McCaffrey at running back. Sanders has more of an opportunity to be a three-down back in this offense though with Chuba Hubbard and Rasheem Blackshear backing him up.
As for the receiving corps, this unit has been completely remade with Adam Thielen coming from Minnesota to play the slot. D.J. Chark will be the primary speed guy with Terrace Marshall Jr, tight end Hayden Hurst, and second-rounder Jonathan Mingo expected to contribute immediately.
Most rookie quarterbacks do not get the luxury of having an offensive line that returns all five starters, but Young has that here, especially 2022 first-rounder Ikem Ekwonu having finally solidified the left tackle spot.
Carolina also switches from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who comes in after serving in the same position at Denver last year. The Panthers need to discover another pass rusher opposite Brian Burns who had a career-high 12.5 sacks last year. This will be a make-or-break season for 2020 first-rounder Derrick Brown to show more production.
Inside backer Shaq Thompson restructured his deal and is a leader on defense. Perhaps the 3-4 will bolster some of his lost production as he and rover Jeremy Chinn can line up closer to the line of scrimmage to help stuff the run game.
If Jaycee Horn can stay healthy (having missed half of his games in his first two seasons), this is a good secondary. C.J. Henderson and Donte Jackson also must stay healthy because there are good ball skills with this group. Veterans Vonn Bell and Xavier Woods also come in as free agents.
The Panthers have been searching for a quarterback ever since mid-2018 when T.J. Watt drilled Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder. Matt Rhule went 11-27 mainly because he could never find the right quarterback. Neither Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, nor Baker Mayfield worked. Now they will eventually turn to rookie Bryce Young and let Frank Reich, Carolina’s first starting quarterback in the franchise’s first season back in 1995, work with and develop him. This is the best long-term approach because free agency has not worked. The Panthers will be underdogs in their first six games, but the organization looks to be heading in a better direction. Nevertheless, this is still a rookie quarterback with a new coaching staff and a new defensive scheme. There is high potential for a bad start to the season and a respectable finish.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: If there is one man every survivor contestant despises, it’s Panthers head coach Frank Reich. Reich has single-handedly cut the field in half with his horrible performances in opening games. Reich’s Colts got beat in 2020 as a 7-point road favorite. In 2021, Reich lost to Seattle as a 3-point home favorite, which probably didn’t take many contestants down. However, in 2022, once again a 7-point road favorite, Reich delivered a crushing blow, tying the Texans 20-20. During Reich’s five years as a head coach, his teams are 0-4-1 in openers, and it’s no wonder he is a stay-away bet on the first weekend of the season.
Based on the preseason, Reich’s inability to prepare his team for the month of September appears to be holding steady. The Panthers have regressed from last season, and even though Bryce Young appears as a “can’t-miss” prospect, the Panthers around him are all missing.
Player to Watch: QB Bryce Young
After a lackluster start to the preseason, Young showed everybody why he was the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft in Carolina’s final preseason game against Detroit. Young was 7 for 12 for 73 yards and a touchdown through the air, while also adding another 21 yards on the ground in that game. Young also showed off a great connection with veteran wideout Adam Thielen, and the former Heisman Trophy winner simply didn’t look like a rookie in that game. That’s about as good of a compliment you can make to a rookie quarterback. Young now heads into the season with quite a bit of momentum. As long as the Panthers can keep him upright, Young should be a threat to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. And Carolina just might challenge for the top spot in the NFC South. But that’s easier said than done. The offensive line has looked shaky throughout the summer. – Zachary Cohen
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