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Carolina Panthers: Updated Game-by-Game Outlook for Remainder of 2012

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2016

Carolina Panthers: Updated Game-by-Game Outlook for Remainder of 2012

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    The Carolina Panthers (1-4) could not be happier about their scheduled bye week this weekend after losing their last three games entering the break.

    In addition to getting a chance to rest and recuperate, the entire Carolina Panthers organization—from Cam Newton to Ron Rivera, and from the offensive line to the defensive secondary—could use a mental break as well.

    The Panthers have played well in spurts this season, but they have been lousy in the clutch in games they had a chance to win, including their last two games against the Falcons and the Seahawks.

    Through five weeks, the Panthers have dropped all the way to 27th in SB Nation's Week 6 NFL power rankings after starting the season four spots out of the top 10 at No. 14.

     

    Carolina Panthers' 2012 Record Through Five Games

    Week 1: Panthers 10, Buccaneers 16

    Week 2: Saints 27, Panthers 35

    Week 3: Giants 36, Panthers 7

    Week 4: Panthers 28, Falcons 30

    Week 5: Seahawks 16, Panthers 10

    Despite winning just once in the first five weeks of the 2012 NFL season, Carolina's offense dominated in the running game and lit up the scoreboard in their victory over the New Orleans Saints (1-4) and in their loss to Atlanta.

    However, Cam Newton and company managed just two touchdowns and a couple of field goals combined in losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3), the Giants and the Seahawks.

    Across the line of scrimmage, Carolina's defense had its best two games in Weeks 1 and 5, giving up just 16 points each to Tampa Bay and Seattle.

     

    Close, But No (Victory) Cigar

    Carolina has been in every game until the end except for the Thursday night fiasco against the Giants, and they should be riding a two-game winning streak heading into their in-season holiday.

    But in reality, the Panthers are a far cry from being a winning team at this point in the season.

    The team I predicted to go 10-6 before the season began appears more likely to repeat its 6-10 record from last season after starting 1-5 before playing .500 football the rest of the way.

    While the defense has played up (or down) to expectations in the first five games, the Panthers offense has to find a way to get into the end zone with the frequency they got there in 2011.

    Perhaps a return to the power-running game, in lieu of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's seemingly mandated read-option rushing attack, will help restore balance to the Carolina offense, though the season-ending loss of Pro Bowl center, Ryan Kalil, just made running the ball a whole lot tougher.

    Though it is nearly impossible to accurately predict how the Jekyll-and-Hyde Carolina Panthers will play week-in and week-out for the rest of the season, here is a glimpse at the Panthers' game-by-game outlook for the 11 remaining contests on their schedule. 

     

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all team statistical data was obtained from each organization's team page at NFL.com.

Week 7 vs. Dallas Cowboys

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    What: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers

    Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

    When: Sunday, October 21, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Dallas Cowboys are 2-2 through Week 5 after their bye week and a 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears in Dallas, a game in which Tony Romo threw five interceptions.

    Though Tony Romo is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage (296.2 yards per game), the Cowboys offense is 30th in the NFL in scoring, putting up just 16.2 points per game in their first four contests.

    The "Big D" in Dallas, however, is fourth in the league in yards allowed (277.5 yards per game) and first in pass defense (169.5 per contest).

    The Panthers will have a week off to prepare for Dallas' attack and to try to figure out a way to get their high-priced running backs, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, on track.

    Carolina's read-option running game has been ineffective in three of their first five games, and the Panthers may have to revert to a quicker-hitting running attack if their offensive line is unable to dominate the line of scrimmage.

    The Panthers played their best game of the season in Atlanta after getting a 10-day break following their embarrassing loss to the Giants, so Ron Rivera and his staff should be able to come up with an effective offensive and defensive game plan in this make-or-break game.

    The question will be whether or not Cam Newton and the Panthers offense can close out the Cowboys with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter.

     

    Prediction

    Panthers 27, Cowboys 24

Week 8 at Chicago Bears

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    What: Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears

    Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois

    When: Sunday, October 28, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Chicago Bears are 4-1 through Week 5, and they have been one of the NFL's best teams through their first five games.

    Chicago is fourth in the NFL in both scoring offense (29.8 points per game) and scoring defense (14.2 points allowed per game), and they have been dominant in each of their victories so far this season.

    Panthers coach Ron Rivera was unsuccessful in his head-coaching debut against his former team last season—he was a backup linebacker on the legendary 1985 Bears defense. Carolina lost that game 34-28 thanks to Devin Hester's NFL record-setting 11th career punt return for a touchdown.

    This was the one game in the second quarter of the season I predicted Carolina would lose a week ago. And I do not see them being successful on the road against Chicago's stingy defense and their balanced passing and rushing attacks, led by Jay CutlerBrandon Marshall and Matt Forte.

    But then again, stranger things have happened. 

     

    Prediction

    Carolina Panthers 17, Chicago Bears 35

Week 9 at Washington Redskins

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    What: Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins

    Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland

    When: Sunday, November 4, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Washington Redskins are 2-3 through Week 5, and though they have not always found a way to win, they have been competitive in every game they have played so far.

    College football fans circled this matchup between the last two Heisman Trophy winners—Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, a.k.a. RGIII—when the NFL schedule was released earlier this year.

    The Panthers beat the Redskins last season in Charlotte 33-20 behind a strong rushing attack and a defense that got stronger after Washington's running back, Tim Hightower, left the game with a season-ending injury.

    The Redskins also started John Beck at quarterback in relief of Rex Grossman, both of whom have been replaced by rookie signal-callers in RGIII and Kirk Cousins.

    Washington is riding an NFL-high eight-game losing streak at home heading into their Week 6 matchup against the surprising 4-1 Minnesota Vikings, and their following two games are on the road.

    So the Redskins will either be riding a new one-game winning streak or trying to avoid their tenth straight home loss when the Panthers come to town.

    One thing is for certain: that Washington will not continue its losing ways at FedEx Field for long with RGIII at the helm.

    This game could go either way.

     

    Prediction

    Carolina Panthers 17, Washington Redskins 23

Week 10 vs. Denver Broncos

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    What: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers

    Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

    When: Sunday, November 11, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Denver Broncos are a slightly disappointing 2-3 in their first five games, coming off a 31-21 road loss to the New England Patriots.

    Denver is fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game (288.8-yard average) and ninth in scoring offense (27.0 points per game) with newcomer Peyton Manning leading the Broncos offense. And running back Willis McGahee is the league's 12th-leading rusher through Week 5.

    The Panthers secondary will have a difficult time slowing down Manning's passing attack unless Charles Johnson and the defensive line can get to the Broncos quarterback as effectively as they got after Drew Brees and Matt Ryan earlier this season.

    Carolina's keys to this game will be establishing dominance at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and establishing their running game.

    If the Panthers can get their rushing attack to fire on all cylinders, Cam Newton and his receivers should find several opportunities to stretch the field vertically throughout the game.

    Carolina should be able to score against the Denver defense, but the Broncos are also capable of lighting up the scoreboard, and it could come down to which team has the ball at the end of the game.

     

    Prediction

    Denver Broncos 38, Carolina Panthers 31 

Week 11 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    What: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers

    Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

    When: Sunday, November 18, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a 2-3 record through Week 5 with a 16-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers on their home turf in Week 1.

    Cam Newton tossed a pair of interceptions, and the punt-protection unit allowed a fourth-quarter punt attempt by the Panthers' Brad Nortman to be blocked, leading to a Tampa Bay field goal and the Bucs' only points of the second half.

    Tampa Bay also held the Panthers to a franchise-tying-low 10 yards rushing on 13 attempts, including minus-1 yards on the ground by Carolina's all-time leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams.

    However, Carolina dominated the Buccaneers in 2011, earning two of their six victories against their NFC South rival, and they will need to re-establish supremacy against the Bucs again in Charlotte to get back to their winning ways.

    Williams and Jonathan Stewart will establish the running game early for the Panthers. Hopefully Williams will redeem his Week 1 performance with a big game against the Bucs in front of the home crowd in Charlotte.

     

    Prediction

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13, Carolina Panthers 24

Week 12 at Philadelphia Eagles

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    What: Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles

    Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    When: Monday, November 26, 2012; 8:30 P.M. ET

     

    This is not the matchup between high-scoring playoff contenders that ESPN's Monday Night Football executives dreamed of when the NFL scheduled its Week 12 game of the week.

    The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-2 after five games, but they are winning because of their defense, not their offense.

    The Eagles are 31st in scoring (16.0 points per game), and they have only cracked the 20-point barrier once so far this season, in a 24-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

    This is Carolina's second prime-time game of the season, and they cannot play any worse than they did in their Thursday night loss to the Giants in Week 3.

    Turnovers will be key to this game, and Michael Vick has been a turnover machine for the Eagles so far this season, losing five fumbles and throwing six interceptions through Week 5.

    The Panthers will get the upset win in a close game en route to their first winning streak of the season. 

     

    Prediction

    Carolina Panthers 21, Philadelphia Eagles 20

Week 13 at Kansas City Chiefs

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    What: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs

    Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

    When: Sunday, December 2, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers share identical 1-4 records through the first five games of the season, with each team getting their first victory of the season over the New Orleans Saints.

    The Chiefs are one of four AFC West opponents remaining on the Panthers schedule, and along with the Oakland Raiders, they are one of two teams currently ranked below Carolina in SB Nation's Week 6 NFL power rankings

    The Panthers currently sit at No. 27, while Kansas City and Oakland are ranked 28th and 30th, respectively.

    Romeo Crennell's team has the No. 2 rushing attack in the NFL, though, averaging 180.8 yards per game on the ground. And Jamaal Charles leads the NFL with 551 yards rushing on 5.3 yards per carry.

    However, the KC passing attack is 23rd in the NFL (221.6 yards per game), and their 18.8 points per game ranks 24th in the league—or two spots better than the Panthers—despite ranking fourth overall in total offense (402.4 yards per game).

    The Panthers have struggled tremendously against the run this season, though they did hold Seattle's then-league-leading rusher, Marshawn Lynch, under 100 yards in Week 5.

    Opposing teams have run the ball effectively against Kansas City this year, and the Panthers will be looking for a big game out of DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart when they visit the best smelling stadium in the NFL.

    It is hard to say how the Panthers will be playing at this point in the season, but I have them riding a two-game winning streak entering Week 13, and I do not expect their winning streak to end at Kansas City.

     

    Prediction

    Carolina Panthers 24, Kansas City Chiefs 20

Week 14 vs. Atlanta Falcons

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    What: Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers

    Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

    When: Sunday, December 9, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Atlanta Falcons are one of two undefeated teams remaining after the first five weeks of the 2012 NFL season, but the Carolina Panthers are the team that came closest to beating them this year.

    Carolina led Atlanta 28-27 with less than two minutes to play, and they came within one yard of finishing the game in victory formation.

    Instead, Cam Newton fumbled the ball on 3rd-and-2. Carolina recovered and punted the ball from Falcons territory on 4th-and-1. Then Atlanta completed a 58-yard pass to Roddy White from their own one-yard line and kicked the game-winning field goal with five seconds left to play.

    The Falcons won 30-28.

    Carolina proved in its first game that it can compete with—and beat—Atlanta when it plays its best.

    The Panthers will have to bring their A-plus game again when the Falcons come to town, but if they run the ball effectively, get a turnover-free game out of Cam Newton and harass Matt Ryan (seven sacks in the first contest), they will have a chance in their rematch with Atlanta.

     

    Prediction

    Atlanta Falcons 27, Carolina Panthers 30

Week 15 at San Diego Chargers

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    What: Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers

    Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California

    When: Sunday, December 16, 2012; 4:05 P.M. ET

     

    The San Diego Chargers are 3-2 and leading the AFC West through the first five weeks of the NFL season. But their victories have come against inferior competition, while their two defeats came at the hands of the teams Carolina has played best. 

    San Diego is 13th in scoring offense (24.8 points per game) and 11th in scoring defense (20.4 points allowed per game) following an eight-point Week 1 victory over the Oakland Raiders and blowout wins against the Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs, each of which has only one win through Week 5.

    Conversely, San Diego is winless in two games so far against NFC South competition.

    The Birds from Atlanta knocked out the Bolts 27-3, and the previously winless Saints beat San Diego 31-24 on the night in which Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas' half-century record for most consecutive games (48) with a touchdown pass.

    Ron Rivera, who coordinated the Chargers defense from 2008 to 2010, will be eager to take his Carolina team out West to take on Norv Turner's squad.

    This will be a competitive game between two teams battling to reach eight wins this season, but the West Coast trip will prove too much for the Panthers to overcome this time.

     

    Prediction

    Carolina Panthers 25, San Diego Chargers 28

Week 16 vs. Oakland Raiders

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    What: Oakland Raiders vs. Carolina Panthers

    Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

    When: Sunday, December 23, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The Oakland Raiders are 1-3 through Week 5 after mercifully being granted a bye week following their Week 4, 37-6 beatdown at the hands of the Denver Broncos.

    While the Oakland A's were battling for a spot in the ALCS at the time this article was written, the Raiders are on the verge of being last in the NFL in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

    The Raiders' most potent offensive weapon, running back Darren McFadden, averages just 50.3 yards per game through Oakland's first four games, and the team Al Davis built is last in rushing and 29th in the NFL in scoring at just 16.8 points per game

    Defensively, Oakland is 25th in total defense (411.5 yards per game) and 30th in scoring defense, allowing 31.2 points per contest.

    Even on their worst day, the Panthers offense can score at will against Oakland's defense. And Charles Johnson and Chris Gamble should be able to keep the Raiders' low-flying offense to less than twenty points.

    Unless the Panthers make a miraculous recovery in the next three weeks to raise their record to 4-4 at the halfway point, Carolina will likely be out of the playoff race long before Week 16.

    But I expect Carolina to finish strongly in the second half of the season, and a victory against the Oakland Raiders is one the Panthers expect to earn in convincing fashion.

     

    Prediction

    Oakland Raiders 10, Carolina Panthers 28

Week 17 at New Orleans Saints

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    What: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints

    Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

    When: Sunday, December 30, 2012; 1 P.M. ET

     

    The New Orleans Saints are 1-4 through their first five games, with their first win of the season coming in Week 5 against the San Diego Chargers.

    The Saints have struggled early this season in the wake of Bountygate and the suspension of head coach Sean Payton and interim coach Joe Vitt.

    Payton is out for the season, but Vitt only has to sit out one more game before he can return to the sidelines.

    New Orleans is still dangerous on offense. Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas' all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass last weekend against the Chargers. I expect them to play better football in the second half of the season.

    Though Carolina defeated the Saints 35-27 in Week 2, New Orleans still has the better team, especially at home.

    The Panthers 2011 season ended with a thud in the Superdome, losing 45-17 on the day Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's all-time record for most passing yards in a season, and it will be more of the same on the final Sunday of the 2012 NFL season.

    And with Year Two of the Newton/Rivera era in the books, Carolina will be four months away from another top-ten pick in the NFL draft and one year closer to reaching the playoffs.

     

    Prediction

    Carolina Panthers 21, New Orleans Saints 38

     

    Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the Carolina Panthers and the NFL on BleacherReport.com.

    Please join the conversation by following me on Twitter @jimmygrappone and be sure to check out my archives for more Panthers articles.

    Recent articles by Jimmy Grappone:

    Panthers Teetering on Irrelevance

    Panthers Should be .500 by Midseason

    Grading Panthers' Positional Units at First-Quarter Mark

    Rivera Shows True Colors in Loss to Falcons

    Panthers' Winners & Losers vs Falcons

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