Ask Bryan: Handling an Early Bye

I don't like having a bye week just four games into the season. How do the players and coaches feel about it? – Johnny in Summerville, S.C.

I wouldn't say a bye this early is ideal, especially with the Panthers off to a 4-0 start. But there are obvious benefits to the bye no matter where it falls, and the last time the Panthers had a bye so early, following a 1-2 start to the 2013 season, they went 11-2 the rest of the way.

Head coach Ron Rivera welcomes the bye as an opportunity to heal up injured players, and he's actually viewing it as well-timed in the context of seeing the schedule as having two byes. After the Panthers return to action, they'll play six games before traveling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, creating what Rivera labeled as a "mini-bye" following that game.

That should set Carolina up nicely for a stretch run of five games that includes two meetings with fellow unbeaten Atlanta.

How do you think the Panthers will deal with defenses that are most likely capable of containing Cam Newton such as the Seahawks and Packers? – Caleb in Carmel, Ind.

The Seahawks certainly have looked like their typically elite selves on defense the last two games, shutting out Chicago and giving up just three points to Detroit's offense. The Packers, who Carolina won't see until Week 9, just held San Francisco to three points.

Both defenses have been vulnerable at times though – like when Seattle yielded 34 points to the Rams – and honestly any defense is vulnerable when Newton is doing his thing. Statistically, neither Newton nor the offense as a whole is tearing it up, but Newton's knack for coming up with well-timed, winning plays has been on point. The Panthers currently rank 24th in the NFL in total offense, yet they stand eighth in points per game.

Common sense says defense will rule the day against the Seahawks – no team has topped 16 points in the teams' regular season meetings the last three years – so I'm not here to tell you that Newton is going to shred Seattle. But to your question, I think the Panthers should hold their own with their defense and more good decision-making by Newton.

Hey Bryan, is Devin Funchess getting any closer to making his way into the starting lineup? I think we are really going to need him to step up in the games following the bye week. – Hugh in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

I've been getting a lot of Funchess questions of late (admittedly not many from Wyoming), and I must say it's a hard one to forecast. As it is, Funchess has played about half the snaps in each of the Panthers' last three games. That's enough to potentially make a big impact – just ask starter Ted Ginn, Jr. – but Funchess isn't seeing as many targets. Ginn, while playing only about 60 percent of snaps, is Carolina's clear statistical leader at receiver. Philly Brown is the snaps leader at around 75 percent.

I believe the rookie will make a big leap forward in production at some point, seemingly out of the blue. When he does burst upon the scene, I could see it happening in the red zone first, with his role only expanding from there. At the same time, the offense is getting the job done right now and soon will welcome back Jerricho Cotchery from an ankle injury.

There's no doubt that Funchess' best days are ahead of him. How far ahead, I'm just not sure.

View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Tampa Bay.

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