It’s that time of year again for each of us to predict the Panthers record before the season begins. Last year I predicted a 5-11 record in Matt Rhule’s first year and I nailed it. While I accurately guessed the Panthers five-win season I only correctly picked two of their wins - Week 11 against the Lions and Week 16 versus the Football Team - when looking at my week-by-week predictions.
Here’s my forecast for the 2021 season. I’m now officially on the record that the Panthers will go 7-10 this year. Now it’s your turn to do the same and put your win-loss predictions in the comments.
Week 1 vs New York Jets - Win (1-0). There’s no better way starting off a new season than a home game against a rookie quarterback and a new opposing head coach. Meanwhile, Sam Darnold is pumped up for the ultimate revenge game. As a BYU alum I’m the co-conductor of the Zach Wilson hype train - along with Tony Romo - and the future Hall of Famer will throw for 365 yards in his NFL debut but still wind up with the loss.
Week 2 vs New Orleans Saints - Loss (1-1). Yes, they’ve lost Drew Brees, but the Saints still have a talented roster and a top coaching staff. BYU’s Taysom Hill will replace a shaky Jameis Winston in the second half and lead the Saints on a game-winning two-minute drive. (Okay, I’ll stop with the BYU homerism).
Week 3 at Houston Texans - Win (2-1). The Texans without Deshaun Watson could very well be the worst team in the NFL. Jaycee Horn’s first career pick-six is the turning point in Carolina’s first road win of the season.
Week 4 at Dallas Cowboys - Loss (2-2). The Cowboys deep receiving corps shreds the Panthers corners while Ezekiel Elliott reminds us Jermaine Carter Jr. isn’t the long-term solution at middle linebacker. Dallas scores somewhere between 35 and 42 points in a blowout win.
Week 5 vs Philadelphia Eagles - Win (3-2). Carolina returns home to win a 13-10 defensive slugfest featuring lots and lots of punts. Brian Burns records 2.5 sacks as the Panthers defense bottles up Jalen Hurts.
Week 6 vs Minnesota Vikings - Loss (3-3). This one hurts. A back-and-forth contest ultimately goes to overtime where Ryan Santoso misses a field goal before the Vikings seal the deal.
Week 7 at New York Giants - Loss (3-4). In a matchup between two equally below-average teams, the Giants ride the home crowd to a 28-27 win. After two frustratingly close losses in back-to-back weeks, Panthers fans lament how they could just be sitting at 5-2 instead of 3-4.
Week 8 at Atlanta Falcons - Win (4-4). Christian McCaffrey exceeds 100 yards both rushing and receiving as the Panthers put together their most complete game of the season in a blowout win on the road against a division rival.
Week 9 vs New England Patriots - Loss (4-5). Rookie quarterback Mac Jones outplays Sam Darnold and Panthers fans start to justifiably criticize GM Scott Fitterer for drafting a cornerback at No. 8 (Jaycee Horn) over quarterbacks Justin Fields (No. 11) and Jones (No. 15). Through nine games Darnold has proven to be good enough to keep the Panthers competitive, but not great enough to be their true franchise quarterback.
Week 10 at Arizona Cardinals - Loss (4-6). Carolina loses a close, entertaining, high-scoring road game between two fairly evenly matched teams.
Week 11 vs Washington Football Team - Win (5-6). Despite having a top tier defense, coach Ron Rivera dials up an uber-conservative game plan which allows the Panthers to keep things close until late. A late Washington punt from inside the Panthers 50 yard line sets up Carolina’s game-winning drive.
Week 12 at Miami Dolphins - Loss (5-7). Carolina goes on the road and drops a tough game to a Dolphins team that is on course for a double-digit win season and a playoff appearance.
Week 13 - Bye week
Week 14 vs Atlanta Falcons - Win (6-7). Coming off the bye week the Panthers coaching staff responds with a great game plan. Sam Darnold passes for over 300 yards, Christian McCaffrey gets over 200 scrimmage yards, and the defense sacks Matt Ryan six times in a 17-point win.
Week 15 at Buffalo Bills - Loss (6-8). Carolina gets manhandled by the “Panthers North” as Josh Allen’s name is in the thick of the MVP discussion and the Bills are gunning for a first round playoff bye.
Week 16 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Loss (6-9). The defending Super Bowl champs are locked and loaded on a championship repeat. The Panthers fight hard but lose a close one at home to their more experienced, more talented NFC South rivals.
Week 17 at New Orleans Saints - Win (7-9). With the playoffs out of reach, a host of Panthers fans will be annoyed when Carolina wins against the Saints because it will hurt their 2022 draft position. But Jameis Winston will throw four picks in this one as the Panthers defense rises to the occasion.
Week 18 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Loss (7-10). With playoff seeding still on the line, the Bucs pick apart the Panthers for the second time in three weeks.
I’m not overly optimistic about the team this year because of a shaky offensive line and I don’t view Sam Darnold as an above average quarterback. The combination of poor protection for a ho-hum quarterback will largely negate the talent of Carolina’s solid skill players. Defensively, the front four will be solid but the linebackers and secondary will generally struggle in coverage. Panthers opponents will be able to pick apart the defensive with underneath throws and screen passes that neutralize the pressure the front four will generate.
But for now, I’m just happy Panthers football is back! I hope they prove me wrong and have a much better season than the 7-10 record I’m predicting. Nothing would make me happier than at the end of the season for me to admit, “I was wrong.”
How many wins do you predict for the 2021 Carolina Panthers?
11 or more
5 or fewer