On Sunday, we finally get a chance to see how the Panthers will play in a real game after an offseason full of personnel changes. Here are five Panther newcomers I’m especially looking forward to watching in Carolina’s 1 p.m. season opener against Los Angeles:
Gerald McCoy: The Panthers’ biggest-name free agent acquisition, McCoy had several suitors but chose Charlotte after parting ways with Tampa Bay. Defensive pressure up the middle will be essential against Jared Goff. McCoy has to provide some.
Joey Slye: The Panthers’ new kicker made 7-of-8 field goals in the preseason, including three from more than 50 yards. But now comes the real test. Slye has always had a strong leg, but accuracy issues kept Virginia Tech’s all-time leading scorer from making it into the NFL until now.
Brian Burns: What a preseason this guy had. The rookie has rock-star potential and a host of Spider-Man sack dances ready if he needs them. Still, we haven’t seen the Panthers’ No. 1 draft pick of 2019 beat top-flight competition with regularity — his four preseason sacks came mostly against scrubs.
Burns will get a lot of chances on Sunday as the Panthers plan to have him lining up as a pass-rushing defensive end in most passing situations.
Ray-Ray McCloud: The former Clemson Tiger got waived in Buffalo and joined the Panthers less than a week ago. On a team searching for a punt and kickoff returner, McCloud likely gets an opportunity early to prove himself as a returner early.
Matt Paradis: The Panthers’ new big-money center plays his first game as he tries to keep Cam Newton’s pocket as clean as possible. It’s hard to get a real read on the offensive line since it played together so little in the 2019 preseason. I think it’s going to have some problems, and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be a big one.
▪ Handyman: If you see Christian McCaffrey drop a ball Sunday, alert Guinness. He caught 107 passes last season — setting an NFL record for receptions by a running back — and do you know how many he officially dropped? Zero.
▪ Making fun of myself: Have you ever written or said something you wish you could take back? I have — repeatedly — and had that experience once again this week as the Antonio Brown saga spilled over in Oakland.
So what were the Raiders thinking when they hired a guy with so much baggage? How could any team even consider taking on all of the “AB” problems? And why would a certain unnamed sports columnist (OK, it was me) write a column back in January that was headlined “Trade for Antonio Brown would net rare talent who could propel Panthers offense”? Oops.
▪ Prediction time: Each week at the end of this column I will predict the game score and also hold myself accountable for previous predictions.
To review: In 2018, I picked the Panthers to go 9-7 and miss the playoffs; they went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
A week ago, I picked these 2019 Panthers to end up 7-9.
For this game, I think the Rams have just a little too much firepower. My pick: Los Angeles 30, Carolina 22.