Which team on the Panthers' schedule poses the biggest challenge? What are the Panthers' expectations coming off a 15-1 season in which they played in Super Bowl 50? – Maurice in North Charleston, S.C.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the NFL schedule came out last week. We already knew the Panthers' opponents and where the games would be played, but we didn't know the order or time slots. That can be a pretty important factor in how a season plays out.
I'm excited for several reasons that the Panthers open the season with a Super Bowl rematch at Denver. It's cool that Carolina gets to open the entire NFL season, and it's good to get that particular game out of the way and to get a long trip out of the way right off the bat. I also like facing the Broncos early given that they'll be breaking in a new quarterback.
Getting a long trip in the rear-view mirror is important because thanks to the Rams' move to Los Angeles, the Panthers will have three West Coast trips in a one-month span. While I feel good about the Panthers' chances for success for their entire home schedule, that stretch poses a notable challenge, particularly the lone back-to-back road games of the year – at Oakland on November 27 followed by Seattle seven days later in primetime.
This will mark the fifth consecutive season and the sixth out of seven that the Panthers and Seahawks have tangled in the regular season. Yes, Carolina triumphed in Seattle last season and knocked the Seahawks out of the playoffs as well, but that will never be an easy trip. And who knows, it could once again be a prelude to a playoff matchup as I see both teams returning in 2016.
With Kelvin Benjamin and Bene Benwikere back in the lineup as well as the addition of Brandon Boykin, how much do you think those three players specifically will aid us in our quest for revenge come opening night in Denver? – Winston in Charlotte
At first glance, Benjamin stands out from the group that wasn't a part of Super Bowl 50. Lost somewhat in the understandable chatter about Denver's relentless pass rush that night was the job the Broncos' secondary did. Denver wasn't shy about pressing Carolina's receivers and made some nice plays on nice throws by Cam Newton. With Benjamin available as a big target in the rematch, Denver's defensive game plan should be more difficult to execute.
The Panthers' secondary did a really good job on the Broncos' talented group of receivers, but it's not a given that Carolina will contain Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in the sequel. Benwikere on the outside and Boykin in the slot should help the cause. The veteran presence of Boykin could be of particular value given, as mentioned earlier, a new quarterback will be making his first start for Denver.
With Kelvin healthy, how will Ted Ginn fit into the lineup this season? Will he be used more as a return man than a receiver? - Will in Cameron, N.C.
In his previous stint with the Panthers, back in the breakthrough season of 2013, Ginn showed how valuable he could be in Carolina's system. A year after catching two passes all season for the 49ers, Ginn complemented Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell in a big way, catching 36 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns – a touchdown total that nearly matched the six TD receptions he had his first six seasons.
Last year when Benjamin was hurt, the question was whether Ginn could excel as a focal point on offense. He responded, catching 44 balls for 739 yards and a whopping 10 touchdowns. Now he'll be paired with Benjamin for the first time (Ginn was with the Cardinals when Benjamin was a rookie). How the Panthers use Devin Funchess and Ginn in conjunction with Benjamin will be worth watching, but the Panthers now know that Ginn can get the job done in multiple roles.