In any normal pandemic-ravaged season there would be a certain set of unpredictability for the NFL season, particularly early on. That uncertainty is amplified in this match-up between the almost entirely new look Panthers offense and the overhauled Raiders defense.
My how the mighty have fallen. Looking at an offensive depth chart devoid of names like Newton, Olsen, and Turner makes my heart ache. While these stalwarts have been moved along to new destinations, the Panthers do have quite a bit of firepower on offense. This is probably the best set of skill position players the team has had in a long time, possibly ever. At least on paper.
The new signal caller is a former first round pick who was on the upswing of his career before a catastrophic injury. Now, after Teddy Bridgewater spent a couple seasons under some great tutelage, he is ready to lead an offense once again. While he does have the ability to perform well, it is yet to be seen whether he can maximize the potential of this offense.
Speaking of maximizing the offense, Christian McCaffrey. That’s it, that’s the breakdown of the runningbacks.
The wide receiving corps has a ton of speed and playmaking ability, starting with up and coming star DJ Moore, who notched a one thousand yard campaign in his sophomore season last year. Most experts expect receivers to really make the jump in year 3, so hopes are high for DJ. Opposite him will be newcomer and speed demon Robbie Anderson, who is known one of the more dangerous deep threats in the game. Sprinkled into the offense a fair amount will be the extremely fun to watch Curtis Samuel. All three of these guys are home run hitters with the ball in their hands, so expect new Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady to have some fun.
The offensive line has the potential to be the Achilles heel of this Panthers offense (anyone else get a case of perennial deja vu?). While there is a good mix of promising youngsters, like Moton and Daley, and wise veterans, like Okung and Paradis, this unit has not spent much time together, and chemistry is key for an offensive line.
Since the Raiders share a division with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, they wisely attempted to improve their defense this season. Between draft picks and free agent signings, the Raiders could have as many as seven new starters on defense, compared to five new starters on Carolina’s offense.
The defensive line is the main area the Raiders attempted to improve. They’ll have co-sophomores Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby bookending the line, with Maliek Collins and Johnathan Hankins anchoring the middle. Look for them to rotate the edge defenders as well, bringing in Arden Key and Carl Nassib off the bench.
The Raiders also added a couple linebackers in Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, who are expected to start. Both arrived in free agency, but we’ll have to see how well they gel within the defense.
The secondary could be one of the most improved areas of the Raiders defense, though they will rely heavily on some younger players. Safety Johnathan Abram, a first round pick last year, is healthy once again after getting hurt in the first game of the year last season. He will be joined by one of this year’s first round picks, cornerback Damon Arnette. If those younger guys can have an impact, then the defense could be much improved over last season.
This one is tough to predict with the high turnover on both rosters and the whole COVID thing, but here goes.
The Raiders defensive line is talented, and the Panthers offensive line has had no in-game chances to gel. Look for Joe Brady to use a lot of motion and quick passing plays early on to negate the pass rush. Another way to slow down the pass rush is to turn around and give the ball to CMC, so don’t be surprised to see McCaffrey get fed early and often, both rushing and receiving. Running the ball also helps a new offensive line because there is not quite as much communication necessary in the run game compared to dealing with stunts and blitzes in pass protection.
The short passing game plays right into Teddy Throwsevelt’s hands, but he will need to take a few shots deep to keep the young Raiders secondary honest. I’d expect to see some max protect calls from Joe Brady that implement some double moves to try to burn the inexperienced defensive backs with the speed of Anderson and Samuel.
Overall, I give a slight edge to the Panthers offense. I think they have too much fire power on the outside and in the backfield. It’ll be hard to keep the offense under wraps for very long. Teddy also limits mistakes and gets the ball out relatively quickly, negating the Raiders pass rush.