- Win Over/Under: 8.5 (+110/-130)
- Make NFC Playoffs: +130 (43%)
- Win NFC South: +250 (29%)
- Win NFC Championship: +1500 (6%)
- Win Super Bowl: +3000 (3%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 8.18 (16th)
As a franchise, the Carolina Panthers have about as much year-to-year consistency as the NFL’s catch rule or suspension policy. If they win nine games in 2018, it would be the first time in their 23-year history that they would have back-to-back winning seasons.
Over the past few seasons, the team’s inconsistency has mirrored the inconsistency of Cam Newton.
As a quarterback, Newton has been an embodiment of his postgame fashion: Sometimes sharp, sometimes ugly, but hard to look away no matter what.
But while dual-threat types like Tyrod Taylor and Alex Smith are deemed expendable due to their flaws, Newton’s flaws — his accuracy and penchant for overexposing himself to injury, except for when he needs to dive on fumbles in Super Bowls — can be overcome with his MVP upside.
Case in point: Carolina running backs collectively averaged 3.6 yards per carry and scored touchdowns on 5 of 24 carries inside the 10-yard line last season, but thanks to Newton’s 5.4 yards per carry and 5-of-12 conversion rate inside the 10, the Panthers finished in the top 10 in both yards per carry and rushing touchdowns.
Whether the Panthers follow through with an increased workload for Christian McCaffrey or use C.J. Anderson in the old Jonathan Stewart role, their running backs could struggle again after an offensive line that already ranked 20th in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grades lost its best interior lineman (first-team All-Pro Andrew Norwell).
Newton has posted at least 4.8 yards per carry on 100-plus carries in six of his seven seasons, and the Panthers were above average in yards per carry each time — he’s their best running back.
And for all the criticism that Newton gets as a passer, he proved he could get it done in that area, too, tossing 35 touchdowns in 2015.
Every year there’s talk of the need for Newton to up his completion percentage, but his aggressive downfield style naturally leads to a lower completion rate, so it’s better to look at his yards per attempt. In Carolina’s Super Bowl season, Newton finished 27th in completion percentage (59.8%) but eighth in yards per attempt (7.8).
Because Newton’s completion rate rose 6.2 percentage points from 2016 to 2017 while his average pass went from traveling a league-leading 11.0 yards in 2016 to an 18th-ranked 8.9 (per PFF data), it’s easy to overlook that he posted a career-low 6.7 yards per attempt (and finished 28th in completion percentage).
But new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has experience building vertical offenses that attempt to maximize the trade-off between completion percentage and yards per attempt.
Newton’s game-breaking ability can make games closer than they should be, and it has translated into profitable betting opportunities when the Panthers are underdogs: According to BetLabs, they haven’t had a losing record against the spread as an underdog since Newton’s rookie year and are 29-19 (60%) ATS as an underdog in his career.
But as valuable as Newton is, he’s never done it alone.
All three of his winning seasons have come with the help of a top-12 defense in points allowed. In his four losing seasons, the defense has ranked 18th or worse. And despite the presence of elite players Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short, the 2018 Panthers do not have the look of a good defense.
Eric Washington, Carolina’s third defensive coordinator in three years, will be more like Sean McDermott than Steve Wilks, relying on his front four to get pressure and his linebackers to cover.
While Kuechly was No. 1 of 91 qualified linebackers in passer rating allowed per PFF data, you can see why Thomas Davis might have felt the need to enhance his performance after finishing 85th. Shaq Thompson wasn’t much better, either, finishing 78th.
Considering some of the outlandish contracts new (and also former) general manger Marty Hurney has given out over the years, the team might be in a better position if he had come back sooner and held onto Josh Norman.
As it stands, the Panthers will start James Bradberry and rookie second-rounder Donte Jackson outside with Captain Munnerlyn in the slot. Bradberry and Munnerlyn didn’t crack the top 90 last season. Neither did Jackson on 89 preseason snaps.
This puts a lot of pressure not only on Kuechly and Short, but also on older players to continue playing at a high level. Julius Peppers is 38, and his pressure rate last season indicates a regression in sacks could be coming, while free safety Mike Adams is 37.
The Panthers weren’t quite as good as they looked last season, going 8-2 in one-score games and 11-5 overall despite a point differential of a nine-win team.
And while they could improve on offense — which is no sure thing considering Turner’s recent track record and the state of the offensive line, which will open the year without both of its starting tackles — a step back on defense is likely, and the Panthers haven’t proven to be a winning team under those circumstances.
Potentially through no fault of his own, I’d bet that the sulking, towel-over-his-head Cam makes at least eight appearances in 2018. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Under 8.5 Wins
Carolina Panthers’ 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 9
- Avg. Spread: -0.6
- Strength of Schedule: 14th (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Panthers: Week 3 vs. CIN, Week 5 vs. NYG
- Use Panthers’ opponents: Week 10 @ PIT
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Pick: RB Christian McCaffrey, TE Greg Olsen, QB Cam Newton
- Sleeper: WR D.J. Moore
- Potential Bust: RB C.J. Anderson
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“We had a sharp play come in on Carolina at 50-1 and moved them to 30-1. There’s also been a lot of under (9) money, but we didn’t move them off that number. It is juiced -140 to the under now, though.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Cam Newton Over/Under 21.5 Passing Touchdowns? (-125/-105)
Newton threw 22 touchdowns last season despite his No. 1 receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, being traded away midseason and his favorite target, Greg Olsen, missing significant time.
And this season, Newton might have the best supporting cast of his career.
In addition to having one of the premier pass-catching backs in the league (McCaffrey), Olsen is back, rookie first-rounder D.J. Moore is a potential stud, and Torrey Smith gives the Panthers the veteran deep threat they’ve lacked since Ted Ginn. There’s also Devin Funchess, who emerged as a top target for Newton last season.
I have this prop being about two touchdowns too low and would set a fair line at 23.5. – Sean Koerner
The Bet: Over 21.5 Passing Touchdowns
Stack Cam Newton with Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen in DFS
The Panthers offer a unique offense that features Newton as its quarterback (and goal-line back), as well as two non-wide receivers, McCaffrey and Olsen, who are expected to see at least 100 targets this season.
While quarterback-wide receiver stacks are most popular, stacking Newton with his running back and tight end shouldn’t be overlooked.
According to the FantasyLabs NFL Correlations tool, Newton posted a .65 correlation with Olsen and a .42 correlation with McCaffrey last season, which is well beyond the NFL averages of .40 and .29, respectively, since 2014. – Ian Hartitz
More on the 2018 Carolina Panthers
- Christian McCaffrey: How Will He Fare in Norv Turner’s Offense?
- Luke Kuechly: How Does He Affect Opposing Offenses?
- Cam Newton: Is Another MVP Season a Possibility in 2018?