The Carolina Panthers kick off their season at home against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The two teams haven’t played since 2015 when the Panthers reached the Super Bowl.
The Panthers want to start the 2018 season off on the right foot. They won 11 games last year but lost in the playoffs to their division rivals, the New Orleans Saints. The NFC South is expected to be a competitive division once again with teams like Atlanta and New Orleans adding offensive weapons while holding onto their core players.
The Panthers added weapons of their own including running back CJ Anderson from the Denver Broncos. He says the team has enough weapons to compete.
“We can be explosive. We’re explosive in the backfield, we’re explosive at receiver, and of course we’re explosive at quarterback," Anderson said. "And we’re explosive at tight end. So we got a lot of weapons and too bad its one football.”
The Panthers offense will be led this year by offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He worked alongside Panthers head coach Ron Rivera for three seasons with the San Diego Chargers when Rivera served as defensive coordinator and Turner was the head coach.
The Panthers defense will start without a familiar face and locker room leader. Star veteran linebacker Thomas Davis will sit out the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance. Shaq Thompson will fill-in during Davis’ absence. Thompson says Davis’ leadership is still felt in the locker room despite him not being there.
“Fifty-eight is still here in this locker room," Thompson said. "All his stuff is up and stuff like that. So he’s still in our hearts so that’s who we are going to go out here and play for.”
This weekend's opponent, the Cowboys, are much different from the team that finished short of the playoffs last season. Long-time tight end Jason Witten retired and the front office decided to release star wide receiver Dez Bryant who led the team in receiving yards last season.
The team is younger and hungry to prove last year was a fluke in the record books. Star running back Ezekiel Elliot is healthy and quarterback Dak Prescott is coming off a strong statistical year on both the ground and the air. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera says stopping the pair will be a point of emphasis on Sunday.
“We’ve got to be disciplined in this game," Rivera said. "We’ve got to control our gaps. We gotta be where we are supposed to be to help shut that run down because the run game is so vital to who they are as a football team in my opinion.”
Dallas boasts a strong defensive core that could give an injured Panthers offensive line some difficulty this week. Offensive lineman Matt Kallil will start the season on injured reserve and offensive tackle Daryl Williams has just started to participate in practice after tearing the MCL in his right knee earlier in the offseason. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel was ruled out by Rivera on Wednesday after undergoing a heart procedure for an irregular heart beat. But despite some injury concerns, wide receiver Devin Funchess says there is still plenty of reasons to be excited heading into Sunday’s opener.
“I think its going to be fun and exciting to open at Bank of America with the new owner and this new team that we got," Funchess said. "I think '18 is going to be a fun year for us.”
This season will be Carolina’s first under new owner Dave Tepper who bought the team for over $2 billion after long-time owner Jerry Richardson was forced to put the team up for sale following a misconduct investigation by the NFL. He was slapped with the biggest fine in NFL history at $2.75 million after the claims against him were substantiated.
Now with Tepper at the helm, and a slate of new weapons, the Panthers have a renewed focus on their ultimate goal: winning a Super Bowl. And, yes, moving past the scandal of Richardson's departure. A win against Dallas on Sunday would be a good start.