You smell that? That's the smell of football.
Boy does it feel good to be writing about a regular season game once again, and this will be a fun one to watch by my estimation. The former expansion team rivalry will meet once again, with the Jags boasting a much more formidable offense and an up and coming quarterback and a defense that likes to get after the passer. They boasted 45 sacks, and appear to be right on track for more even with the injury to 1st round pick Dante Fowler. The big question mark is offensive line and keeping Blake Bortles protected however, as they allowed 71 sacks last season. Panthers D-line vs. Jags O-line will definitely be a key in the game.
Kawann Short vs. Zane Beadles/Stefen Wisniewski
It's looking more and more like Star Lotulelei will not play this Sunday, with quotes from Rivera about being cautious and concerns about the long season ahead. Kawann Short has always been the guy who will put up sexier stats on the defensive line, but Star is very important to what the Carolina Panthers do on defense. The team often opens the game with Colin Cole at nose tackle and Star at under tackle, boasting a formidable run stuffing middle. Star also often shifts to nose tackle on later downs where Kawann Short jumps in at under tackle. Without Star, the only guy who can swing between nose and under tackle effectively is Short. Short appears to be on pace for a break out season. He will likely be on the field on almost every down with some combination of Cole, Dwan Edwards, and Kyle Love shifting in and out.
The Jags clearly made an effort to establish a power run game, by drafting TJ Yeldon, signing Jermey Parnell (who apparently is his own backup) to start at right tackle, and Stefen Wisniewski at center. They will look to get the ball to Yeldon with a healthy mix of Denard Robinson to take pressure off Bortles. Short needs to do what he does best, wreak havoc.
Greg Olsen vs. Telvin Smith/Jonathan Cyprien
The big talking point of the offseason and a reason many point to as the big problem that will keep Carolina out of the playoffs is Kelvin Benjamin. However, my retort is simple. Greg Olsen simply needs to do what he does best, catch the football. He's now clearly the number one target in the offense, with complimentary speedsters at wide receiver and another tight end with receiving ability in Ed Dickson. Every team is going to try and key in on Olsen, and there will need to be more guys who can step up in the offense. Week one will be our first look at how teams are going to do this, and the Jags will likely put their most athletic linebacker in Telvin Smith on him with Cyprien always guarding over the top.
I've always been a huge fan of Cyprien, and I really wanted him in 2013 when he was drafted. Telvin Smith reminded many scouts of Kam Chancellor. They will likely be tasked with keeping on top of Olsen, and forcing Cam to go to his wideouts or second tight end. But many teams did the same thing last year, yet here we are with a guy coming off a 1,000 yard Pro Bowl season. So my response to people who believe Olsen will take a step back without Benjamin? "We'll see."
Josh Norman vs. Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson has been all the rage as a sleeper for fantasy football, poised to get the lion share of targets with Julius Thomas sidelined. Which he will get. The question is how effective will he be against Josh Norman? The same Josh Norman who kept Julio Jones under wraps and helped shut down Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson last year? Norman is trying to establish himself as a premiere shut down corner, and it's a contract year for him. The Panthers had the most success on defense last year when they put Norman in and had him go man to man against opposing offenses' number one receiver. There will still be a fair amount of zone coverage, but I'm really excited to see how Norman responds to being picked on in this game. It should be a great matchup.
Jonathan Stewart vs. Paul Posluszny
With the recent troubles at wide receiver, the Panthers are going to lean heavily on the run game this year. Cam's going to run the ball, Mike Tolbert will get his carries, Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne will be used to change the pace up. But nothing will be more important to this run first offense than Stewart's effectiveness as the bell cow. He finally will take the field as the unquestioned starter, and will be looked to as an every down back. The Panthers will continue their power run persona behind their three headed power running monster. The Jags linebackers, and specifically Posluszny, will be looking to stop that. Posluszny has racked up over 100 tackles in 3 of his 4 seasons in Jacksonville, and would have likely been 4 for 4 if he stayed healthy all year last season. The Jags will definitely try to force the pass.
Who are you most excited to see play Panthers fans?