2016 NFL Week 2 Preview: Panthers vs. 49ers
The road back to the Super Bowl got off to a disappointing start for the Panthers during Week 1. Inconsistent play on both sides of the ball, suspect officiating, and a missed game-winning field goal by the usually surefooted Graham Gano led to a 20-21 loss to the Broncos. Fortunately for the Panthers, they won’t have to see Denver and that defense again this season unless they both make it back to Super Bowl. Cam Newton is cleared to play after several brutal helmet-to-helmet hits and it’ll be interesting to see how last Thursday impacts how he plays on Sunday. He and the Panthers will look to bounce back against a Chip Kelly led 49ers squad that shutout the Rams 28-0 in their first game of the season.
Can the 49ers keep the momentum going?
Chip Kelly could not have wished for a better start to his tenure as the 49ers head coach. The defense played superb as it held Todd Gurley, last season’s Offensive Rookie of Year to just 47 yards on 17 carries. Carlos Hyde also played well and he had no trouble moving the chains against one of the better front 7s in all of football. Even Blaine Gabbert managed to looked like a starting quarterback as he finished 22 for 35 for 175 yards and a touchdown. Chip Kelly will look to keep the game plan similar to Week 1’s as they will continue to rely on Carlos Hyde and the running game to lead their offense. However, the Panthers are not the Rams and if the ground game is slowed and they are forced to air it out, it could get uglier than a Master P sneaker pretty quickly. If Blaine Gabbert plays like Blaine Gabbert, Chip Kelly may look to give the Panthers defense a different look and bring in Colin Kaepernick to take over the offense.
Can the Panthers offense maintain a rhythm for 4 quarters?
During the first half against the Broncos, the Panthers offense showed why fans were right to be excited about its potential for the 2016 season. Kelvin Benjamin played like an early favorite for Comeback Player of Year, grabbing a handful of passes over the Broncos secondary including one for a touchdown. They had success on the ground as well and Cam moved the chains on designed runs that eventually landed him a touchdown as well. However, the second half was a completely different story. The offensive line began to struggle against half time adjustments made by the Broncos defense and Carolina looked much like they did in the Super Bowl managing just 3 points in the second half.
Despite the 49ers defense shutting out the Rams last week, Carolina should have a much easier time on the offensive side of the ball on Sunday. Niners linebackers Navarro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks will provide challenges for the offensive line but ultimately Cam Newton should be able to expose the weaknesses in the San Fran’s defense for most of the game. Look for the Panthers to go downfield to former 49er Tedd Ginn early in this game. If Cam is able to have success with the long ball, this game should have a much different outcome than the one against Denver.
Despite my unconditional love for the Panthers, in a dream scenario, Kaepernick comes in for Gabbert and leads San Francisco to victory and Cam Newton stinks its up. But the defending NFC Champs are not losing to Trevor What’s His Face and Blaine Gabbert in consecutive weeks. Carolina will continue its dominance at Bank of America Stadium and extend its home winning streak to 14 games.
Final Score: Panthers 28-13