The Matt Rhule era in Carolina is off to a rocky start with five wins in each of his first two seasons, and his squad showed little signs of improvement in Year Two. The Panthers sat at .500 through 10 games, but they ended the year with a seven-game losing streak to miss the playoffs (-300) for a fourth straight season. The Panthers took on unnecessary risk by trading for Sam Darnold and accepting his fifth-year rookie option. The move looked savvy through three games with an undefeated start and Darnold accounting for six overall touchdowns while averaging 8.3 YPA, but it petered out with just one win in his final nine games (eight starts). He turned back into New York’s Darnold, throwing six TDs to 12 INTs and averaging a gross 5.5 YPA in his final nine games. Carolina got so desperate that they brought back franchise icon Cam Newton, who once again looked cooked. He had an 0-5 stint as the team’s starter, and he’ll likely finish his Carolina career with a 13-game losing streak.
Owner David Tepper already started to warm Rhule’s seat last season, and Rhule responded by throwing OC Joe Brady under the bus for not running the ball enough. It didn’t help that Carolina’s offensive line remained one of the league’s worst and that the injury bug once again stung Christian McCaffrey, who missed another 10 games after missing 13 contests in 2020. The Panthers ended up averaging the third-fewest yards per game (298.9) and the fourth-fewest points per game (17.9), which was the team’s worst output since the Panthers averaged 258.4 YPA and 12.3 PPG with Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore at the trigger in 2010. The Panthers’ offense constantly put their emerging young defense in terrible spots, evidenced by the group allowing the second-fewest yards per game (305.9) but the 12th-most points per game (23.8).
2021 By the Numbers
Record (ATS): 5-12 (5-12)
Season Win Total: 7.5 (under)
One-possession Record: 2-6
Missed Playoff Odds: -300
Over/Under record: 8-9
PPG: 17.9 (29th)
PPG Allowed: 23.8 (21st)
Point Differential: -100 (26th)
|2||@New York Giants||+1||1|
|3||New Orleans Saints||+1||1|
|5||San Francisco 49ers||+2.5||4:05|
|6||@Los Angeles Rams||+7.5||4:05|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+5.5||1|
|10||Atlanta Falcons||-4.5||8:15 (Thurs)|
|16||Detroit Lions||-4||1 (Sat)|
|17||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+7.5||1|
|18||@New Orleans Saints||+3||TBA|
The Panthers have the 14th-easiest schedule based on opponent win totals (per Sharp Football).
The Panthers will travel the 15th-fewest miles (16,494) and cross 14 time zones this season (per Bookies.com).
Carolina has three straight home games against the Saints, Cardinals, and 49ers in Weeks 3-5.
The Panthers have just one primetime game at home against the Falcons in Week 10.
Carolina has just one game against an opponent coming off a bye when they travel to the Ravens in Week 11.
Carolina is one of the seven teams that doesn’t have a short-rest road game.
The Panthers have an extra home game.
- Nothing of note.
Key Off-season Moves
|QB Baker Mayfield||OT Ikem Ekwonu||EDGE Haason Reddick (Phi)|
|OG Austin Corbett||QB Matt Corral||CB Stephon Gilmore (Ind)|
|C Bradley Bozeman||LB Brandon Smith||CB A.J. Bouye|
|RB D’Onta Foreman||C Matt Paradis|
|WR Rashard Higgins||QB Cam Newton|
|LB Cory Littleton|
|S Xavier Woods|
|LB Damien Wilson|
|DT Matt Ioannidis|
|P Johnny Hekker|
2022 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||6.5 (+105/-125)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 6 (-110) in late March to 6.5 (+105) in late July
Super Bowl: +3600 in mid-February to +13000 in late July
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
Christian McCaffrey has played in just 10-of-33 games the last two seasons, but he was the premier skill player before that with a combined 4375 scrimmage yards and 32 touchdowns in 2018-19. The Panthers have floundered with just five wins in each of their first two seasons under Matt Rhule, but a healthy CMC could lead a turnaround with the Panthers playing in a weaker NFC South with the Falcons and Saints. D.J. Moore is also the best WR the average fan doesn’t know about because of the poor QB play he’s been saddled with to start his career. GM Scott Fitterer locked him up to a three-year, $61.8 million extension before the WR market exploded. Moore will look to hit his full potential after the Panthers finally upgraded at quarterback when they traded for Baker Mayfield in early July. Mayfield is a clear upgrade for the entire offense with the Panthers' win total moving to 6.5 wins at most sportsbooks — it previously sat at 5.5 or six wins.
Carolina’s offensive line went from a major weakness to a potential strength over the off-season, and they may have finally solved their left tackle problem by drafting Ikem Ekwonu sixth overall. Fitterer also added interior offensive linemen Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman to improve their dreadful O-line, but it looks like they’ll be stuck protecting Sam Darnold or Matt Corral at quarterback. Carolina will be leaning on its defense once again after they put them in too many difficult spots last season. The Panthers finished second in total defense with 305.9 yards per game allowed, and they have some young pieces to continue to build around in Brian Burns, Jaycee Horn, Derrick Brown, and Jeremy Chinn.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
The Panthers haven’t won an NFC South championship since they won three straight titles in 2013-15. They’ve finished under their win total in four straight seasons, which includes the last two years when Matt Rhule signed a seven-year, $62 million deal. Carolina is such a mess that owner David Tepper could pull the plug on Rhule before he even completes half of his contract if the Panthers have a third straight down campaign. Rhule earned a reputation as a program builder at Temple and Baylor in the 2010s before coming to Carolina, but he hasn’t been able to motivate professionals like he was able to do with college players.
I actually like a lot of the moves the Panthers made this off-season. They plugged some big holes, especially along their offensive line, but quarterback still has to be a major concern even after landing Baker Mayfield in early July. Mayfield hasn’t averaged more than 7.3 YPA in each of his last three seasons and he owns a career INT rate of 2.9%. I’m not exactly confident that OC Ben McAdoo can get the most out of Baker, especially with a limited amount of time to implement the offense. Carolina’s Super Bowl odds were artificially inflated early in the off-season just in case they landed a big-time quarterback, which never materialized after they missed out on Deshaun Watson. The Panthers also lost two big defensive pieces with Haason Reddick (Eagles) and Stephon Gilmore (Colts) looking to compete for the playoffs elsewhere.
Notable Player Props
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
Baker Mayfield: passing yards (3800.5), passing TDs (22.5), INTs (13.5), MVP (+8000), Comeback POY (+1200), most passing yards (+6500)
Fantasy Points Projection — passing yards (3425), passing TDs (23), INTs (10)
Best-Case Scenario: A fresh start is just what the doctor ordered for Mayfield as he returns to his rookie-season form working with stud receivers in D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey.
Worst-Case Scenario: Mayfield continues to regress even with a change of scenery as his YPA dips for the third straight season (7.3>7.2>?) and he remains turnover prone with his career 2.9% INT rate.
Christian McCaffrey: rushing yards (900.5), rushing + receiving yards (1595.5), rushing TDs (8.5), OPOY (+1600), most rushing yards (+3500), Comeback POY (+750)
Fantasy Points Projection — rushing yards (795), rushing + receiving yards (1465), rushing TDs (7)
Best-Case Scenario: McCaffrey continues to be the best fantasy player when he’s available, and he flirts with his second season with 1000+ yards as a runner and as a receiver.
Worst-Case Scenario: After playing in just 10-off-33 games (30.3%) in 2020-21, CMC’s career keeps moving in the wrong direction with injuries derailing him for a third straight season.
D.J. Moore: receiving yards (1075.5), receiving TDs (4.5), receptions (85.5), most receiving yards (+3000)
Fantasy Points Projection — receiving yards (1210), receiving TDs (5), receptions (90)
Best-Case Scenario: Moore clears 1100+ receiving yards for a fourth consecutive season and he finally breaks through with his first season with 5+ touchdowns in an improved offense.
Worst-Case Scenario: Baker Mayfield fails to provide a meaningful upgrade over Sam Darnold, and Moore losses a nice chunk of his career-high 163 targets from 2021 with CMC back in the lineup.
Best Bets and Leans
Bold and Italicize bets and leans
Christian McCaffrey to win Comeback Player of the Year (+1000, FanDuel, placed June 10). Risk one unit to win 10 units.
- CMC has played in just 30% of Carolina’s games over the last two seasons, but the last time we saw him in the lineup full-time he joined the likes of Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players to post 1000+ rushing and 1000+ receiving yards in the same season. He still averaged 21.8 FPG in his 10 contests the last two seasons even with some early absences in those games, and his second overall ADP indicates he has massive potential to fill up the stat sheet this season.
Christian McCaffrey (Car) under 8.5 rushing touchdowns (-115, DraftKings, placed July 1). Risk 1.15 units to win one unit.
- McCaffrey has topped seven rushing touchdowns just once in his five-year career when he handled a whopping 287 carries during his All-Everything 2019 campaign. CMC touched the rock 403 times during that season and he’s paid the price the last two years with just 10 games played in 2020-21. The Panthers coaching staff is going to be more mindful of his workload this season, which is why they brought in a resurgent D’Onta Foreman this off-season. McCaffrey will continue to handle the passing-game work, but Foreman could take away some carries and potentially some goal-line work from CMC with his 6’1”, 236-pound frame. The Panthers averaged just 17.8 points per game (4th-fewest) last season and this offense isn’t going to be much better with their current QB situation, so McCaffrey’s opportunities for rushing TDs could be limited.
Matt Corral (Car) to win Offensive Rookie of the Year (+3000, FOXBet, placed May 4). Risk .5 units to win 15 units.
- I loved this bet back in early May when it looked like he could see significant playing time this season since his only competition for snaps was going to come from Sam Darnold. Corral’s situation has changed since then with the Panthers trading for Baker Mayfield, which means he’ll have a much tougher time finding the field as a rookie. Carolina has a more talented offensive roster than they’re given credit for with Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore leading the way. Corral could succeed if he’s given the chance to play, but I don't like his chances to get on the field enough to make this bet after the Mayfield trade.
Carolina Panthers under 6.5 wins (-125, DraftKings)
- Carolina added Baker Mayfield to move their win total up to 6.5 victories at most sportsbooks, and the Panthers have been given about an additional 1-1.5 points in spread value with Baker at quarterback over Sam Darnold. The Panthers are still underdogs in all but four of their games heading into the season, but they have a number of winnable matchups against the likes of the Falcons (x2), Lions, Seahawks, Giants, and Steelers. The Panthers made some savvy additions across the board to improve this roster, but I’m still skeptical if they’ve upgraded enough at quarterback to get over their win total. The most likely outcome is that the Panthers have one of the more dysfunctional quarterback situations once again, which could spell the end of the Matt Rhule era.