Three out of the Carolina Panthers‘ first five games leading up to their week six bye are against division opponents. Two out of three come on the road in week one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the other is in week four against the Atlanta Falcons.
The New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks pay visits to Carolina in week two and five, respectively. To round out the vicious first five games, Carolina will host the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in week three on Thursday night.
Their first five opponents combine for a total record of 43-37 in 2011. It’s truly a brutal opening portion of the schedule and one the Panthers hope to turn into success and build on after their bye week.
It’s safe to say that a good start is key for the Panthers if they want to avoid failure in 2012.
Panthers second year quarterback Cam Newton will be the primary focus for both Panthers fans and opposing defensive coordinators. However, all the pressure shouldn’t be placed on Newton’s shoulders so early in the season. Opponents will have answers for some of Newton’s dynamic plays that he turned into to touchdowns and big gainers a year ago.
In his rookie campaign, Newton’s stats read like a true future Hall-of-Famer’s would read: completing 60 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns. By mid-season last year, he had become a fantasy owner’s dream, finishing second in the NFL with 14 rushing touchdowns. That’s a remarkable season, but one the Panthers can’t expect him to duplicate so soon.
Carolina will need to first get healthy, which they are on track to doing, and then utilize their talent at running back to formulate a lethal ground game early in the season.
Pounding the football and running screens should limit the blitz, giving Newton time to work the play-action pass. Newton’s play making ability out of the pocket will eventually complement the Panthers’ ground attack throughout the course of the first five weeks. If Carolina’s veteran running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart can play well and stay on the field, then the Panthers can expect a fast start.
It won’t be easy, though. With a tough slate of games to open 2012, success would be defined as entering the week six bye with a winning record. Ending up 3-2 in the opening five games would go a long way to establishing confidence and providing positive vibes on which to build upon for the remainder of the season.
So for now, Panthers fans, let’s sit back and enjoy Wednesday night’s opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys because come Sunday, the stress level will begin boiling over and will not subside until after week five.