The Rams will open up the 2019 season with a trip east to face off against the once division rival Carolina Panthers in a rare 6 pm kickoff for us in the UK. The Panthers started brightly in 2018, before losing 7 of their last 8 games to end the season in disappointment and out of the Playoffs.
Going into 2019 there’s no change at HC with Ron Rivera entering his 8th year in Carolina. Eric Washington is at DC after being promoted from Defensive Line coach at the start of last season, and former Rams wide receiver coach Norv Turner is also going into his second year as OC.
The Panthers didn’t go crazy in free agency. Former Seahawk Bruce Irvin was given a one-year deal and Matt Paradis signed a three-year deal to bolster the offensive line. Both Irvin and Paradis are replacing fan favourites Ryan Kalil and Julius Peppers, who have both decided to hang up their cleats this offseason. Another beloved player Thomas Davis heads west to join up with our city rivals the LA Chargers.
The draft is sometimes the best place to address your biggest needs and in Brian Burns and Greg Little, the Panthers may have done that. I’m a big fan of Burns, I was dreaming of him somehow ending up in LA but in reality, he was too good to fall that far. The FSU edge rusher is extremely versatile, good in the run game and has the ability to rush the passer from the three-point stance or stand up position. Greg Little is athletic for his size but he’s a super raw prospect, described by some as a ‘boom or bust’ type player. He started last season in and around the top 15 of a lot of mocks but after a poor combine, he dropped out of the first round altogether. Only time will tell if he is the answer at LT.
Offensively there isn’t any elite level talent outside of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, stop those two and you’ve stopped their offense. DJ Moore had a good rookie season and if he improves on it, Cam could have himself his first weapon at WR for quite a number of years. We’ve probably seen the best of Greg Olsen, with age and injury having caught up with the tight end. The offensive line has the potential to be good, with Paradis taking over at centre, Little potentially starting at left tackle and Taylor Morton heading into his third year after a promising second. This unit could make or break this team with Carolina relying heavily on their run game.
Now onto the defensive side. Ron Rivera will continue to call plays after he took over last season. The Panthers have arguably the best Linebacker in the league with Luke Kuechly. He lost his partner Thomas Davis this offseason, so now it’s time to see if former first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson can step up and play at a higher level. Inside pressure is becoming huge in the NFL, and while Kawann Short didn’t have a great 2018 season, the addition of Burns on the edge should free up Short to get back to being a dominant inside pass rusher once again. Former 49er Eric Reid is the stand out player in the secondary, he is a versatile player and isn’t afraid of throwing himself into collisions.
Carolina is a team that has the potential to be a difficult game for any opponent. They are only likely to go as far as Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey can take them and it will the interesting to see if Newton can remain healthy through all 16 games. Their biggest issue may be the division they play in, the NFC South. The Saints reached the NFC Championship game last year and Atlanta has a talented will look to bounce back and avoid the injury bug that plagued them in 2018. It will be an uphill battle for the Panthers to reach the Playoffs in 2019