No. 3: Carolina Panthers
Checking in at number three are the Carolina Panthers, who lost a few key pieces from their 11-5 campaign last year. Guard Andrew Norwell signed a five-year, $66.5 million dollar deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, making him the highest paid guard in the NFL. That loss will be felt greatly, as Pro Football Focus dropped the Panthers from 10th to 21st in their offensive line rankings after Norwell signed with the Jaguars.
In addition to Norwell, the Panthers also lost safety Kurt Coleman, veteran running back Jonathan Stewart, and defensive lineman Star Lotulei.
The loss of Stewart paves the way for young running back Christian McCaffrey to be the feature back. McCaffrey showed flashes of promise in his rookie year, including catching 80 passes for 651 yards and five touchdowns out of the backfield. Expect McCaffrey to get plenty of chances to display his great athletic ability, especially in the passing game.
In a loaded NFC South, I see Carolina taking a backseat to the top two dogs in the division, Atlanta and New Orleans. Both teams have more offensive firepower and also have young pieces on defense to be excited about. Carolina’s roster still has talent, but their weak offensive line and lack of offensive weapons will ultimately keep them from being at the top of a very loaded NFC. The Panthers will be in the thick of the wildcard chase come December thanks to their defense, but don’t expect a division title out of Carolina in 2018.