Carolina faced a difficult transition last season as they moved on from Ron Rivera, Marty Hurney, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Greg Olsen. New HC Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady held their own in their first seasons, and the Panthers were more competitive than their 5-11 record (9-7 ATS) would indicate. The Panthers missed the playoffs (-600) and they finished with a losing record for a third straight season in 2020. They endured a five-game losing streak in Weeks 6-10 after sneaking above .500 with a three-game winning streak. Teddy Bridgewater had eight different chances to win or tie a game on the final possession this past season, and he failed to deliver a single win in those situations. It didn’t help that Christian McCaffrey played in just three games last season because of ankle, shoulder, and quad injuries.
The Panthers allowed the 15th-most points per game (25.1) and they scored the ninth-fewest points per game (21.9), which resulted in a 9-7 mark toward unders. Carolina ended the year with a meager 3-8 record in one-score games and a 1-2 mark in contests decided by three scores or more, and they finished with the league’s 10th-worst point differential (-52).
Carolina’s 2021 win total (7.5) climbed by two victories after a competitive start to the Rhule Era last year. The Panthers fell below their 2020 win total by half a victory and they locked in their under with their 11th loss of the season to the Saints in the season finale. Entering this season, I have the Panthers power rated as the 26th-best team in the NFL (+7000 to win Super Bowl LVI), as the 14th-best team in the NFC (+3000 to win the conference), and as the fourth-best team in the NFC South (+1100).
Spreads are first-look lines from the SuperBook, which were released in early June.
|1||New York Jets||-4.5||1|
|2||New Orleans Saints||+2.5||1|
|3||@Houston Texans||-4||8:20 (Thurs)|
|7||@New York Giants||+3||1|
|9||New England Patriots||PK||1|
|11||Washington Football Team||-1||1|
|16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+6.5||1|
|17||@New Orleans Saints||+6.5||1|
|18||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+6.5||1|
The Panthers will face the 15th-easiest schedule this season based on 2021 win totals (per Sharp Football) thanks to matchups with the Jets, Texans, and Eagles, who are each lined at 6.5 wins or worse. All three of those matchups come in the first five weeks of the season, so Sam Darnold will have a chance to get off to a strong start. The Panthers caught a break since they’re one of 11 teams that won’t face an opponent coming off of a bye this season, and the NFL scheduled them for just one primetime game. They also get matchups against the Cowboys in Week 4 and Saints in Week 16 the week after their opponents play on Monday Night Football.
The Panthers’ schedule isn’t too daunting through the first 14 weeks of the season before it becomes an absolute bear in the last month. They’ll have a tough time closing out a potential playoff berth late in the season if they’re in contention in the final four weeks as they end with matchups against the Bills, Bucs (x2), and Saints.
Key Off-season Moves
|David Moore (WR)||Jaycee Horn (CB)||Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Den)|
|Dan Arnold (TE)||Terrace Marshall (WR)||Curtis Samuel (WR, Was)|
|Cam Erving (OT)||Brady Christensen (OT)||Mike Davis (RB, Atl)|
|Pat Elflein (OG)||Tommy Tremble (TE)||Russell Okung (OT)|
|DaQuan Jones (DT)||Chuba Hubbard (RB)||Chris Reed (OG, Ind)|
|A.J. Bouye (CB)||Stephen Weatherly (DE, Min)|
|Morgan Fox (DT)||Kawann Short (DT)|
|Haason Reddick (LB)||Rasul Douglas (CB)|
|Denzel Perryman (LB)||Tre Boston (S)|
2021 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||7.5 (+110/-133)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 7.5 (-110) in late March to 7.5 (+110)
Super Bowl: +4500 in early February to +7000
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
The Panthers fell below their win total in their first season under HC Matt Rhule but they were competitive most weeks, playing in 11 one-score games but finishing with three victories in those contests. They quickly changed course this off-season after just one season with Teddy Bridgewater under center after he went 0-for-8 in his chances to win or tie the game on the final drive of games. They traded for Sam Darnold to see if they could unlock his potential after the Jets organization did their best to break him the last three seasons. Darnold will try to become the latest player to see a bump after getting away from Adam Gase. Ryan Tannehill headlines the players whose careers took off after getting away from Gase — the group also includes DeVante Parker, Kenyan Drake, Mike Gesicki, Damien Williams, and Darnold’s new (old) teammate Robby Anderson.
Darnold will have way more dynamic skill players around him on his new team, which includes Christian McCaffrey. CMC is the consensus top overall pick in fantasy drafts for the second straight year despite playing in just three games last season. He still averaged 124.7 scrimmage yards per game with six touchdowns in his limited time. Darnold will also reunite with Anderson, with whom he had a strong connection during their time in New York. He’ll also look to unlock the end zone for D.J. Moore, who has scored a touchdown for every 315.6 receiving yards in his first three seasons (10 TDs and 3156 yards).
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
The Panthers have finished under their season win total for three straight seasons while the Jets finished under their win total in each of the last three seasons with Darnold leading the franchise. Darnold comes to Charlotte with a 13-25 record (.342 winning percentage) to start his career while his TD rate (3.7%) and his INT rate (3.2%) in New York were way too close for a starting NFL quarterback. The Panthers rolled the dice this off-season to see if they can rehabilitate Darnold’s career, but he’s given us little reason to believe it will happen after his first three seasons.
The Panthers have quickly rebuilt their defense after spending all seven of their draft picks on defense in 2020 and after using the eighth overall pick on top CB Jaycee Horn. They have assembled plenty of young talent among Horn, DE Brian Burns, DT Derrick Brown, S Jeremy Chinn, and DE Yetur Gross-Matos. Still, they’re likely another season of development away and another key player or two short from being a top-10 defense. They also have major issues along their offensive line, especially at left tackle with journeyman Cam Erving and third-round pick Brady Christensen battling it out for the starting job. The interior of their offensive line also has questions despite the Panthers overpaying for the underwhelming Pat Elflein in free agency. The O-line is a glaring weakness for the offense and it could potentially hold back Darnold from getting his career on track.
Notable Player Props
Christian McCaffrey: rushing yards (1150.5), rushing + receiving yards (1850.5), most rushing yards (+600), MVP (+5000), OPOY (+800), Comeback POY (+600)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (1215), rushing + receiving yards (2020)
Best-Case Scenario: After finishing as a top-five back in each of his three games played in 2020, CMC stays on the field this year and he pays off his No. 1 status in fantasy drafts.
Worst-Case-Scenario: McCaffrey continues to be nagged by injuries after playing in just three games last season, and Carolina’s hole at left tackle hinders both as a runner and as a receiver.
Sam Darnold: passing TDs (21.5), MVP (+10000), Comeback POY (+1600)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing TDs (24.0)
- Best-Case Scenario: Like Ryan Tannehill and others before him, Darnold is the latest player to get the Post Adam Gase Bump as he breaks out in his first season away from the New York spotlight with his career-best receiving corps.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Darnold’s struggles continue in Carolina with turnovers (career 3.2% INT rate) and inefficient passing (career 6.6 YPA and 3.7% TD rate) continuing to plague him.
D.J. Moore: receptions (80.5), most receiving yards (+3200)
Fantasy Points Projection: receptions (79)
- Best-Case Scenario: Moore hit it off with Darnold immediately and, after a promising start to his career, he finally breaks through to WR1 fantasy status in his fourth season.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Joe Brady continues to use him more as a downfield target but he never quite gets on the same page with Darnold, who owns a 59.8% completion percentage entering the season.
Robby Anderson: receiving yards (999.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (1000)
- Best-Case Scenario: Robby sees more deep shots in 2021 with his old teammate Sam Darnold leading the offense after his YPR dipped to 11.5 yards playing with Teddy Bridgewater last season after he averaged 15.0.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Robby sticks in his role as an intermediate receiver but his production dips going from Bridgewater to the much more scattershot Darnold.
Carolina Panthers under 7.5 wins (-120, BetMGM) — I agree with the juice to the under on the Panthers but the range of outcomes for this team is just too volatile for me to get involved with any of the season and player props for Carolina. Most of the volatility is coming from Sam Darnold at the quarterback position. There’s a better chance that Darnold continues to struggle in his fourth season since he’s always had issues with turnovers and bouts of inconsistent play dating back to USC, but I’m still not putting a breakout season past him as a potential outcome for him in 2021. He’s loaded with talent and we’ve recently seen too many players succeed once they got away from Adam Gase. Overall, I like what Matt Rhule, Scott Fitterer, and David Tepper have quickly built in Carolina, but this roster is still young and a bit incomplete for me to wager on them to win eight or more games.