The Carolina Panthers have been a roller coaster ride for the entire season, but never has that been more true than over the last two weeks. A nail biter in their first game against the Atlanta Falcons followed by what felt like a hangover game against a more competent Cincinnati Bengals team. Who are the Panthers are what do we actually expect from them this season? These are questions that we should have comfortable answered by a few weeks ago, but such is not the case for a team in transition.
The reality of Thursday Night Football is that the short week of preparation tends to exacerbate existing issues within a team while also advantaging the home team. The spend less time traveling and get that much more time to prepare for the game than their opponents. That’s kind of a wash for the Panthers, who have demonstrated issues with preparation among a host of other concepts.
Offenses, in general, are also supposed to be advantaged because defenses have less time to prepare for them. However, that is also a blunted advantage for both teams since they saw each other just ten days ago. That leaves us with a whole lot of half-formed questions, appropriately, to ask of a not entirely formed team. Still, we’re not entirely blind. Here’s what I’m watching for instead of doing laundry tonight.
This is how you know a season has gone off the rails. The weather isn’t only a relevant factor in tonight’s game, it might be the most interesting factor. Wind and rain is expected to be a constant throughout the game as the last remains of hurricane Nicole cross the area.
The rain will come in bands, but the heaviest precipitation isn’t expected until after the game is over. It will be wet on the field and in the stands, but we aren’t expecting a repeat of the 2011 Jacksonville game here.
The most consequential element may be the wind. That is supposed to range from 15-25 MPH sustained winds with gusts up to 35 MPH. They will be east to northeast winds, which means they will blow from the east or northeast in a westerly or southwesterly direction, cutting at an angle approaching perpendicular to the field. This will affect the kicking game, if only by inserting an added layer of doubt into Steve Wilks and Arthur Smith’s decision making processes.
Expect conservative game plans and an uncomfortable amount of run-run-run-punt drives from both teams. There is a reason why, no matter how bad the Panthers look on paper, DraftKings Sportsbook is keeping the Falcons as only -2.5 point favorites.
Wilks made the decision to pull PJ Walker from the game last week after he posted a 0.0 passer rating in the first half. He’s starting again tonight, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be given the full game to find his stride.
Questions abound surrounding the Panthers quarterback position. As of right now, we don’t know who will even be active at kick off. Whether Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield are first off the bench could tell us a lot about just what kind of mayhem we’ll bear witness to for the rest of the season.
Weather conditions aside, the Panthers have been playing relatively disciplined football under Wilks. A home, prime time game against a division rival in an adverse climate might test that. This team is hurting after a close loss to these same Falcons and a blow out against an actually competent Bengals team. If ever there were a game where Panthers players might invite the refs to take over then it is this one.
If Wilks can keep a handle on his men, however, then it will be further evidence that he is doing as good of a job as one could expect of him. An incredible job, one might say. It’s not like ‘winning’ was an achievable standard, regardless of what he or David Tepper have said in public.