CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-11)
New faces: Coach Matt Rhule, OC Joe Brady, DC Phil Snow, QB Teddy Bridgewater, WRs Robby Anderson, Keith Kirkwood, Seth Roberts, PR Pharoh Cooper, OT Russell Okung, G John Miller, DT Derrick Brown, DE Stephen Weatherly, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Eli Apple, S Juston Burris, DB Jeremy Chinn, P Joe Charlton.
Key losses: QB Cam Newton, LB Luke Kuechly, TE Greg Olsen, DE Mario Addison, CB James Bradberry, WRs Torrey Smith and Chris Hogan, G Trai Turner, DTs Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Vernon Butler, S Eric Reid, K Graham Gano.
Strengths: Panthers still have one of most dynamic players in RB Christian McCaffrey, who became only third player in NFL history to post 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in same season. Bridgewater is solid replacement for Newton, if not upgrade over injury-riddled 2015 league MVP. There is outstanding speed outside with WRs D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Anderson, and O-line has been upgraded. Should be interesting to see what ideas new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who helped LSU with national title last season, brings to NFL.
Weaknesses: Carolina is replacing nine starters from last year's defense, although DT Kawann Short does return from shoulder injury that kept him out of 14 games. Many of Carolina's team leaders are gone (Newton, Kuechly, Olsen and Addison), so replacing them is essential. Losing Kuechly is huge blow to defense. Panthers spent all seven draft picks on defensive players, which shows how much help they needed on that side of ball.
Pandemic Development: Not having true offseason with minicamps and OTAs is huge detriment to incoming college coach like Rhule, who is still just getting to know his players. Cancellation of preseason also works against Rhule; he won't know which players will stand up to competition until real games start. Rhule has targeted “versatile” players on defense that play multiple positions. Among them are Chinn and Burris.
Fantasy Player To Watch: McCaffrey will be No. 1 overall pick in most drafts — and that is well deserved. Bridgewater could be huge sleeper pick at quarterback given team's speed and playmaking ability on offense, and defense might not be very good, leaving Panthers chasing points.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl: 100-1. Over/under wins: 5 1/2.
Expectations: Panthers are in clear rebuilding mode with new coach and revamped roster. Owner David Tepper is willing to be patient, so no real pressure on Rhule to win this season. It doesn’t help that Carolina’s young defense will compete in division that includes three top-level quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Players really like Rhule but reality suggests it is going to take years before Panthers are contending. In all likelihood, Panthers will once again be bringing up rear in NFC South.
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