Carolina Panthers Schedule Preview: NFC South


Last but most important in this series is the NFC South. The Panthers will see these teams twice this season. These are the Panthers’ traditional rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is critical that the Panthers win games within the division this year. So let’s see what we got.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Game 1: 9/7, Raymond James Stadium (Tampa Bay, FL)
Game 2: 12/14, Bank of America Stadium

Tampa Bay is a team in transition again. New head coach Lovie Smith is bringing the Tampa-2 back to Tampa and has a good defensive line to build with, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in the middle. It is the Tampa defensive line that will be the obstacle for the Panthers offensive line. Newton will likely be required to find his dump off receivers often to take advantage of the middle linebacker occupying the middle zone of the defense.

Tampa’s offense is also a work in progress. The trick is stop Doug Martin from establishing the run. That way Josh McCown will be unable to play action down to Vincent Jackson. That means the Panthers front seven will be the key players in determining the outcome of the game. Big games from Luke Kuechly.

Aug 28, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) following a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Ravens defeated the Saints 22-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints

Game 1: 10/30, Bank of America Stadium
Game 2: 12/7, Superdome (New Orleans, LA)

When you think New Orleans, you think Drew Brees. Brees is always dangerous. Pass rush against him is nice, but this will be a game where coverage is key on offense. Kuechly or Davis or somebody will have be responsible for tight end Jimmy Graham. The defense also can’t be discouraged if they give up one big play. The issue will be to not give up a second. Force Brees to manufacture yardage down the field.

On offense, the Panthers will need to use run heavy ball control offense to keep Brees off the field and the defense rested. The Rob Ryan 3-4 will offer the opportunity to control the line of scrimmage, which should be easier for the line than defending against zone blitz formations coming after Cam Newton.

Aug 28, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during pre-game warmup against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Richard Dole-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons

Game 1: 11/16, Bank of America Stadium
Game 2: 12/28, Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA)

The I-85 rivalry is the oldest in Panthers history (unless you consider the Jaguars a rival like 12 year old me did). Matt Ryan has his weapons back this season in Julio Jones and Roddy White. He does not have a good line, so the Panthers are best served if Matty Ice is icing his back. The pass rush was very effective last year. Greg Hardy had three sacks in one game against the Falcons.

The Falcons defense brings back the same pieces. The ghost of Osi Umenyiora is lurking on their roster as a rush specialist. These games represent the best chance for the Panthers offense to show its true balance.

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