As if facing the reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos twice this season isn’t enough, the Raiders also face the other Super Bowl team from last season, the Panthers, who also had the league’s best record in 2015.
Panthers 2015 numbers
Offense rank: 11th
Defense rank: 6th
It’s no coincidence that the Panthers had both the most wins last season, but also scored more points than any other team. They scored a total of exactly 500 points last season, which is a league best 31.2 points per game. They were one of just two teams to average over 30 ppg along with the Cardinals (30.6).
That offensive attack was led by league MVP Cam Newton who threw for 3837 yards with 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Newton was also second on the team with 636 rushing yards and added another 10 rushing touchdowns. His leading receiver was Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen with 77 catches for 1104 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The defense is led by All Pro linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kewann Short. You could include cornerback Josh Norman as well, but the team removed the franchise tag from him, allowing him to leave for Washington. His departure could prove to be a significant loss to their defense. It will certainly be nice for Derek Carr and his receivers not to have to face him.
For the update on the Panthers and their current status we reached out to the staff over at Cat Scratch Reader:
Notable free agent additions:
DT Paul Soliai - Expected to back-up Star Lotulelei
C/OG Gino Gradkowski - versatile back-up for the interior o-line
P Mike Scifres - coming off a leg injury
Notable free agent departures:
CB Josh Norman - Panthers rescinded franchise tag and he signed with the Redskins
DE Jared Allen - retirement
CB Charles Tillman - he is still a free agent as he heals from an ACL injury; says if he plays again it will be for the Panthers only
P Brad Nortman - Jaguars overpaid for his services
S Roman Harper - Panthers did not offer; now back in New Orleans
Ha! As if Dave Gettleman would trade a player away. He did make a draft pick trade to move up in the draft at one point.
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
DT Vernon Butler - Should be in the DT rotation at some point
One of the rookie CBs (James Bradberry, Darryl Worley, Zack Sanchez) should get significant snaps if not start; currently Bradberry has the edge
Biggest offseason addition:
At 345 lbs that would be Soliai. Impact-wise the Panthers didn’t add a veteran starter besides the punter.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
The return of WR Kelvin Benjamin. Though statistically the Panthers didn’t seem to miss Benjamin don’t tell Cam Newton that. Benjamin’s 73 catches for 1,003 yards and 9 TDs as a rookie in 2014 was sorely missed at times in 2015.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
WR Devin Funchess has turned heads at OTAs with his maturity (he’s only 22), route running and hands. While the Panthers top 3 WRs (Benjamin, Ginn and Brown) can certainly make great catches, all three are prone to drops. If Funchess can prove to be more reliable he can garner more targets and challenge as the Panthers #2 WR.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
RB Jonathan Stewart appears to still have issues from his leg injury in SB50. Though he is expected to be 100% by TC we will be keeping an eye on him.
CB Bene Benwikere and WR Kelvin Benjamin have been declared 100% from their 2015 season ending injuries.
No other significant injuries