Carolina Panthers 2012 Season: Taking a Look at the Opponents

Nader Ktait@@NaderKtaitCorrespondent IIApril 5, 2012

Carolina Panthers 2012 Season: Taking a Look at the Opponents

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    Cam Newton's first season in the NFL was definitely an unforgettable one.  But to tell you the truth, I'm more excited to see what Newton will do in his second year in the NFL.  This coming season will be a real exciting one for Panther fans.  Not only will we get Jon Beason and Thomas Davis back, we'll also get to see what our new quarterback looks like as a non-rookie.

    Although, we are a long way away from the 2012 season, I don't think it's too late to get excited about the upcoming match-ups for the Carolina Panthers.  Even though there are still some significant changes to come to the current Panthers roster - considering the NFL draft hasn't even taken place yet - I still think that we can get a good idea of what to expect with the upcoming match-ups.

    Keep in mind, we only know who the Panthers opponents are; the exact dates and times of the schedule have yet to be set.  Nevertheless, the Panthers have played all these teams before and we can still get a sense of how the season will go.

    Or how we hope it'll go.

    In the 2012 NFL season, the Carolina Panthers will be playing all four teams from two different divisions (other than their own): the NFC East and the AFC West.  In addition, they also have games scheduled against the Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks.  Let's take a look at those games first.  

    Throughout this article, I encourage you all to share your thoughts on how the 2012 season will go.

Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks have been quite inconsistent over the last few seasons.  But even after a rough start last season, they managed to finish strong and make a valiant attempt to stay in the wild-card race.

    While their quarterback situation was in doubt, their running game, behind Marshawn Lynch, was effective.  With enough changes to their offense, the Seahawks might become a strong competitor in the 2012 season.

    The Panthers lost to the Seahawks in the 2010 season, 14-31.

    Carolina struggled that season.  At the time, Jimmy Clausen was the starting quarterback and DeAngelo Williams was injured.  The Panthers offense just wasn't there, and the Seahawks took advantage of that opportunity.

    Interestingly, Matt Flynn just signed with the Seahawks, but Pete Carroll spent a great deal of his time studying film on Cam Newton, probably because Carroll knew he’d facing Cam this coming season. 

    According to The Charlotte Observer, Carroll recently called Cam Newton, an “extraordinarily rare athlete.”  Carroll is obviously aware of what Newton can do to a defense and will probably do whatever he can to prepare for Newton.  With that said, I wouldn’t count this game as an easy win for the Panthers. 

    Nonetheless, I’m expecting the Panthers to pull out a victory from this game.

Chicago Bears

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    Although not a divisional game, the Panthers will face the Bears again this season. 

    Last season, we watched Matt Forte run all over the Panthers' defense.  And to make matters worse, Devin Hester managed to return yet another touchdown to not only break the record but also reveal another weakness the Panthers had: special teams. 

    The Panthers lost to the Bears last season, 29-34.

    Hopefully with the key members of the defense returning and some improvements on special teams, the 2012 Panthers will not suffer the same fate.

    But the Bears have also acquired a new weapon on their offense, Brandon Marshall.  If Marshall proves himself to be a powerful target for Jay Cutler, then the Panthers’ defense will have more to worry about than Matt Forte.

    It'll be quite a fight but the Panthers should come out as the winners!

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Panthers and Chiefs last played in the 2008 season.  This was a rough game for the Chiefs, as the Panthers beat them 34-0. 

    The 2008 season was a great season for the Panthers and not a very good season for the Chiefs.

    In the 2012 season, I’m thinking the Chiefs will most likely attempt to put some points on the board through their run game (with Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones).  That is, unless, the Panthers don’t improve in their secondary this coming season and Matt Cassel manages to have a great game.  

    The Panthers' pass defense ranked among the worst last season, and if it doesn't improve, the Chiefs will definitely do their best to take advantage of that weakness.

    But in all honesty, I’m not really sure what to expect from this game.  I believe that Kansas City will have to rely on their defense to stop Cam Newton, whether he’s on the run or throwing touchdowns to Steve Smith.

    Either way, I’m expecting the Panthers to win this game as well.

Oakland Raiders

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    This is another game that we should all be excited about. In the past, I’ve learned that you can never count the Oakland Raiders out of any game.  So no matter how bad this team might look in a particular part of the season, there’s no guarantee that the Panthers will get an easy win out of this game.

    Former Panthers running back Mike Goodson was recently traded to the Raiders for offensive tackle Bruce Campbell.  Goodson recently claimed to Steve Reed of The Associated Press that he felt he wasn’t given enough opportunities with the Panthers.  

    Goodson's claim makes sense considering he was playing behind two dynamic running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.  Any running back playing behind those two players should expect limited playing time.

    However, Goodson is going to feel like he has a lot to prove against the Panthers.  And once again, if the Panthers don’t improve their run defense, Goodson might just have his opportunity to shine and rub it in Carolina’s face. 

    Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

    The Panthers beat the Raiders the last time they met in 2009, 17-6.  If DeAngelo Williams runs like he did during that game, I expect the Panthers to win this game.

San Diego Chargers

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    There are plenty of reasons to be excited about this game.  Panther fans, like myself, may recall the last time these two teams matched up. 

    On September 7, 2008, Jake Delhomme threw a touchdown to Dante Rosario in the last few seconds to win, 26-24.  Qualcomm Stadium fell silent.

    Although Delhomme and Rosario are no longer Panthers, I’m sure the Chargers are still holding a grudge. 

    Another thing that’s exciting about this game is that it will be Ron Rivera’s and Rob Chudzinski’s first game against their former team.  Rivera was the defensive coordinator for the Chargers, and Chudzinski was the tight ends and assistant head coach.

    There are also other players on the Panthers that played for the Chargers.  One of them was a recent acquisition for the Panthers acquired in free agency – fullback Mike Tolbert.

    It’s never easy to play your former team.  But as we will see, I don’t think this game will be very easy for the Chargers either.

    It'll be a close game, but I'm not sure that the Panthers will win this one.

Denver Broncos

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    At the time when the Panther’s opponents were first announced, I was really looking forward to seeing a match between Tim Tebow and Cam Newton.  But I can’t complain about a Peyton Manning vs. Cam Newton match-up. 

    Don’t get me wrong, if anything, I’ll be really excited about it. 

    When the news first came out that Peyton would not play in the 2011 season, I was disappointed, especially considering the Panthers were scheduled to play against the Colts.  Lucky for the Panthers, they’ll get their opportunity to face Peyton this upcoming season.

    But we also can’t forget about John Fox.  Coach Fox will also get a chance to beat his former team.  Will that happen? 

    He certainly does have some good weapons on his side (Peyton Manning), and since he coached the Panthers for eight seasons, you’d think that he’d be prepared for them. 

    The Panthers now, however, are not the Panthers that John Fox knew.  Fox could be in for one heck of a surprise. 

    Likewise, behind Peyton, the Broncos are not the same Broncos the Panthers faced in 2009.  The Panthers beat them 30-10, but I expect this game to be a lot closer than that.

    I want the Panthers to win this one, but I don't think it will happen.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    In the Panthers first game of 2009, they faced the Philadelphia Eagles and got quite a beating.  The Panthers lost to the Eagles 10-38, a great victory for the Eagles and a devastating loss to start the season for the Panthers. 

    Jake Delhomme especially struggled in that game.  Delhomme threw four interceptions that game and was replaced by Josh McCown and Matt Moore.  This game was bad for all three quarterbacks. 

    On that note, I believe the outcome for this rematch between the Panthers and the Eagles will depend greatly on the quarterbacks (Cam Newton and Michael Vick).  Both of these quarterbacks are exciting to watch, not just in their ability to run and escape tackles, but also in their ability to make some difficult throws. 

    The Eagles, like the Panthers, struggled last season.  The Eagles were expected to be the team to beat but had a disappointing season instead.  I have a hard time believing they will struggle in the way they did last season.

    It’s a tough call but this game will definitely be a close one.  However, I expect the Panthers to win.

New York Giants

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    The last time the Panthers faced the New York Giants was in the opener to the 2010 season.  The Panthers struggled quite a bit in the game despite showing some signs of life before the half when Matt Moore threw a great touchdown pass to Steve Smith. 

    However, the Panthers lost the game, 31-18.

    The Giants might have held a grudge after the Panthers dominated them the season before (beating the Giants 41-9).

    But I don’t think this game will have much to do with what has happened in the past between these two teams.  The Giants now are going to be defending Super Bowl champs.  You can expect the Panthers, among other teams, to put on one heck of a fight against this team to gain some bragging rights.

    This will be a tough match-up for Carolina, but nevertheless an exciting one.  The Panthers might not win this game but they will play well.

Washington Redskins

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    The Panthers beat the Redskins last season, 33-20.  It was a huge win for the Panthers.  It was also only their second win at the time. 

    The Redskins have acquired some new weapons through free agency, wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan.  Both of them should serve as good targets for (hopefully) their first round draft choice, Robert Griffin III. 

    It’s tough to imagine RG3 having a rookie season comparable to Cam Newton, so I’ll have to go with the Panthers on this rematch.

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Panthers played the Cowboys back in the 2009 season and lost 7-21.  I remember this game well, as it was one of many games where we began to worry about our quarterback situation.

    Jake Delhomme threw two interceptions that game, one of which was returned for a touchdown.  Unfortunately, Delhomme was already on his way to leading the league in interceptions at that point of the season.

    Although the season turned around when Matt Moore took over, the Panthers would not find their best quarterback option until Cam Newton.

    Hopefully this time around, the Panthers put up a better fight against the Cowboys and win this game.

Atlanta Falcons

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    And last, but not least, we turn to the division rivals.  The NFC South has been a competitive division, especially when the Panthers are playing well.  These divisional games may in fact end up being the most exciting this upcoming season. 

    The Panthers lost both games against the Falcons last season.  The first game they lost in Atlanta, 17-31.  And the second game they played at home and lost 23-31. 

    Matt Ryan played especially well in the second game, throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns. 

    Cam Newton was not able to match up with Ryan, as Newton had thrown 3 interceptions in the first meeting and then two more in the second game against Atlanta. 

    One might argue that these turnovers were the game changer in these two match-ups.  If that’s the case, then I believe the Panthers will have some better luck this upcoming season against the Falcons. 

    I expect the Panthers to win at least one of these matches against the Falcons, but I can't confidently claim they'll win both.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Panthers won both games against the Buccaneers last season.  They beat them 31-23 at home and 48-16 in Tampa Bay.

    There might be good reasons to believe the Panthers won't win these games against Tampa Bay as easily as last season.  The Buccaneers recently added some new weapons to their roster (such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson and offensive guard Carl Nicks). These weapons, particularly Vincent Jackson, will definitely test the Panthers pass defense.

    If a powerful connection is developed between Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson, then the Panthers secondary will be put through a good test.  Hopefully the Panthers are able to strengthen their overall defense through the draft.

    These games might be close, but I believe the Panthers will get the best of the Buccaneers just as they did last season.

    Thus, I predict the Panthers will win both games.

New Orleans Saints

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    As many of us might already know, the Panthers defense last year was one of the worst in the league.  No team revealed that fact better than the Saints, especially in their second game against Carolina. 

    In their first meeting, the Panthers and Saints matched up quite well.  Cam Newton threw for over 220 yards and two touchdowns.  However, Drew Brees threw for almost 360 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Unfortunately, the Panthers lost a heart breaker, 27-30.

    The second meeting was a brutal one for the Panthers.  Brees threw for almost 390 yards and five touchdowns.  Newton couldn’t keep up, only throwing for 159 yards and one touchdown.  Newton later said he was embarrassed by the overall performance in that game.

    Let's hope that with key players coming back from injuries (Jon Beason and Thomas Davis) and some new additions (possibly via the draft), the Panthers will be able to put up a better fight against the Saints.

    But there are some other reasons to be optimistic about the rematches against the Saints.  One important reason is the recent suspension of Saints head coach Sean Payton. 

    Who knows exactly how Sean Payton’s suspension will affect the Carolina Panthers chances against the Saints.  But one thing is certain, Payton’s suspension does give the Panthers a better chance of claiming the NFC South division for themselves.

    Check out my article on what the Saints punishment means for the Panthers: "New Orleans Saints Coach Disciplined: What This Means for Carolina's 2012 Season."

    Just like their games against the Falcons, I think the Panthers will pull off at least one win against the Saints.

    My final prediction for the season is a 10-6 record for the Panthers.  But tell me, what do you guys think?