In week 1 of the 2017 season, the Carolina Panthers travel across the country to play the San Francisco 49ers. First year head coach Kyle Shanahan is a familiar foe for the Panthers. Shanahan spent 2 seasons in Atlanta as the offensive coordinator, winning 3 of the 4 matchups against the Panthers during this time. Lot’s of new faces for the 49ers including draft picks Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and free agent acquisition Pierre Garcon. Let’s take a look at how the Panthers matchup with their former NFC West foe.
A Panthers offense that seems to be at full health look to get back on track after a lackluster 2016 performance. Cam Newton is a full go and has shiny, new toys to work with. Draft picks Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel look to add speed and playmaking ability to an offense that lacked both in the 2016 season. Reliable Greg Olsen and company look to take advantage of the inexperienced secondary of the 49ers.
Not to be confused, with all of the talk of an “evolution” of the Panthers offense. One thing that won’t change is their commitment to running the football. Carolina will look to run the ball early and often on a 49ers defense that struggled to stop the run last season. An effective run game also makes things easier on quarterback Cam newton and his newly repaired shoulder.
The offensive line had a strong showing in the preseason, tackles Matt Kalil and Darryl Williams have to keep quaterback Cam Newton upright in order for the Panthers to have any success. The interior of the offensive line is stellar, and healthy. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is back after having his season cut short a year ago.
Adding savvy veterans in Mike Adams and Captain Munnerlyn, the Panthers defense seems more equipped to handle the Kyle Shanahan offense that shredded them twice last season. Though Shanahan won’t have star receiver Julio Jones, Pierre Garcon is no slouch and Shanahan will look to get him the ball in a variety of ways.
Tied for second in he NFL in sacks a year ago, the Panthers added a familiar face in Julius Peppers, resigned Mario Addison, gave Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short a new contract and drafted rookie Daeshon Hall. Getting pressure with just 4 down lineman and stopping the run is the formula in Charlotte, and will be key on Sunday. If Carlos Hyde can pull off a few runs, it may open up the play action pass, which could spell doom for the Panthers on the road.
The Panthers boast arguably the best trio of linebackers in the NFL. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is back and 3rd year linebacker Shaq Thompson looks to take on a larger role this season. Veteran Thomas Davis makes this group stout. 49ers rookie George Kittle and offensive weapon Kyle Juszczyk will be valuable weapons for the 49ers. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has his hands full against a smart and creative playcaller in Kyle Shanahan.
Prediction: Panthers 31, 49ers 14
Traveling across the country, against a virtual unknown with limited film to study will be a tough battle. I expect the 49ers to start fast and keep this game relatively close through three quarters. However I think a healthy, revamped and talented Panther team eventually pulls away.