1. What's the feeling with the Carolina Panthers this year? What are the realistic expectations for this team in Charlotte?
This really felt like it was going to be the Panthers year. The pieces were in place, the offensive line was bad -- but we already knew that, and successful late-round drafting began to show promise. Then Kelvin Benjamin was injured.
Is one player enough to ruin a season? Probably not outside of quarterback, but wide receiver was the one position the Panthers couldn't take an injury at. The depth wasn't there and now we see the current circumstance where the team is leaning on Ted Ginn and Philly Brown while hoping second-round pick Devin Funchess can bring something to the table. Before Benjamin's injury it was safe to say this would be a 10-win team, now most fans are hoping for a 8-8 finish.
2. Are you worried at all about the injuries along your defensive line? Do you think the Panthers will overcome them on Sunday, or could the Jaguars offense be in for a treat?
The defensive line is a bit of a concern (especially at defensive end) but the shelves have been stocked for a long time. When current GM Dave Gettleman came from New York he quickly instilled the same urgency on filling the defensive line that he saw succeed with the Giants. Yes there are some injuries, but with the Panthers group of linebackers and the depth they should be fine.
3. Who's going to step up in the Panthers passing game with Kelvin Benjamin's absence? Who's in line to fill the gap?
We don't know either, to be perfectly honest. Short term it's going to be Ginn and Brown, but that's far from ideal. The hope is that Funchess can develop and play a very similar role to Benjamin's rookie year. There isn't anything complicated about the Panthers offense, so he should be able to develop quickly. If he can catch a high pass and an occasional jump ball that's all the team needs at the moment. The question is whether he can develop into that fast enough to help contribute this year.
4. How's your offensive line? Any chance the Jaguars and their weak pass rush get to Cam Newton?
The offensive line is bad, but it's a lot better than last year. The center and guard spots are solid for the first time in a while, but the tackle positions are scary. Thankfully the Panthers replaced the abysmal Byron Bell, but all they got in the way of replacement was Michael Oher. I think Oher will be better than Bell (not that it would be hard to) but whether that can result in success remains to be seen. Across from Oher is second-year UDFA Mike Remmers, who showed flashes last year and we hope it will continue.
It sounds like it's going to be a wet noodle fight in the trenches this week. If the Panthers had any quarterback other than Cam Newton I'd say the Jaguars could get to him, but Newton is slippery enough that he'll be able to create for himself and get out of tight situations.
5. What's your prediction for the game? Easy Panthers win? Close game? Surprise victory by Jacksonville?
I'm seeing a lot of blowout predictions in favor of the Panthers and I'm not buying it. This team is young, the new offense needs to gel and I think it's going to be a lot closer than fans here expect. That said, I do expect the Panthers to win this week. Obviously I think the Jags are trending upwards, it's just that the Panthers rebuild has been incubating a couple of years longer. If the wide receivers catch passes I think Carolina win.
I hate score predictions, but let's say Panthers win 17-13 for fun.