Friday - Feb 22, 2019

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Under the Microscope – Carolina Panthers

Overview
When I picked the Panthers for this week’s Under The Microscope, I knew this was a hot, up-and-coming team.  What I didn’t know was that they would go on the road and knock off the defending champions by, of all things, running the ball straight at them.  Plus a little luck, I mean c’mon, a blocked extra point?  But still, this team has definitely impressed me with its progress through the first two games of this year.  It’s too early to start calling them a playoff contender, but they are certainly improved over last year’s edition.  This week’s victory in Tampa earned them control of the NFC South – let’s see how they handle the pressure of being division leaders.

Team Stats (numbers in parentheses are NFL Ranking)
Note: I will be using last year’s stats until week 5.
Category Yards/Game TD’s
Rushing Offense 99.1  (25) 11  (t21)
Passing Offense 168.4  (30) 15  (30)
Rushing Defense 103.3  (8) 12  (t6)
Passing Defense 187.1  (4) 18  (t7)

Turnover Stats Upcoming Schedule
33 takeaways  (7)
40 giveaways  (t29)
-7 overall  (t23)
3: BYE
4: Atlanta

5: New Orleans
6: @Indianapolis
7: Tennessee
8: @New Orleans
9: @Houston
10: Tampa Bay
11: Washington
12: @Dallas

Schedule Analysis
Week 3 is not the greatest time for a bye.  When it’s early in the season, you’re undefeated, relatively injury-free, and you just beat the defending champs, all you want to do is keep playing.  But the Panthers will need the rest for this next stretch of games – two critical division contests, followed by two top AFC teams, and then a road trip to the Big Easy for another go-round with the Saints.  We’ll know how tough this team is by week 9 when they emerge from this 5-game gauntlet.

Player Analysis

Jake Delhomme, QB – This is the first season that many fantasy owners have heard his name, but Jake Delhomme has been bouncing around the NFL and NFL Europe since 1999.  It took the Panthers’ coaches all of a half to decide that he should get his first chance at starting.  None of the Panthers’ receivers would start on most NFL teams, and Delhomme is bound to struggle as every new starter in the NFL does.  Coach John Fox will not ask him to beat teams through the air, he will simply say to him: “Please, no, pretty please with sugar on top, do not fumble the handoffs to Stephen Davis.”

Rodney Peete, QB – Old man Peete has been around and seen it all, on 6 different teams in his 15-year NFL career.  While it’s possible that he may start a few more games this year, he has never been a guy you can count on for fantasy points.

Stephen Davis, RB – Davis looks to be the perfect fit for Carolina’s rough, tough, grind-it-out offense.  Those of you who drafted him 7 or 8 spots behind LaDainian Tomlinson are laughing all the way to the win column.  If he can stay healthy and keep up this kind of pace, he will be a top 3 back.  Ride him ’till he drops.

DeShaun Foster, RB – Foster was a very promising back coming out of UCLA last year, but he never got a chance to see the field after suffering a knee injury.  As long as Davis is healthy, he won’t be seeing it much more this year, either.  There’s no point in carrying him on your roster now.

Rod Smart, RB – Look, mom!  It’s “He Hate Me” from the XFL!

Mushin Muhammad, WR – Muhammad is the veteran and considered the #1 receiver on this team, but as I said earlier, none of the receivers on this team would start for most NFL squads.  He is two years removed from his best season where he had 102 catches for 1183 yards, and this offense doesn’t look like it will be producing any significant passing numbers any time soon.  Muhammad can be your #3 receiver in a pinch, but expect to see up-and-down games with a first year starter at QB.

Steve Smith, WR – Although Smith turned some heads by producing a few good games last year, he is basically the possession receiver on this team.  With the passing offense looking this bad, there’s got to be a better option out there on waivers.

Ricky Proehl, WR – Same goes for this former Rams slot man.

Kris Mangum, TE – Mangum is primarily a blocker and rarely sees a ball thrown his way.  Again, there are better choices at TE.

Defense/Special Teams – You can take the credit for the Panthers 2-0 start and put it squarely on the shoulders of this group.  A blocked punt for a safety was the margin of victory in the opener against the Jaguars, and two blocked kicks (one field goal and one extra point) put them in position to beat the Bucs in overtime.  Obviously this is the strength of the Carolina team, and it translates into fantasy points.  Don’t expect miracles every week, but this unit should be good for those extra points you need to edge out a win.

The Bottom Line
There’s no doubt, the Panthers are an improved team.  But analyzing the stats shows that they’re doing it with a little bit of smoke and mirrors on offense.  If they can build up at least a decent passing attack to mix with the running of Stephen Davis, look out.  This team could be good.  The missing element appears to be a quarterback, but Jake Delhomme could surprise me.  Still, I think this team is a year away from really being a contender.

Next Week … I’ll add to my personal theme of “Bronco Week” by putting my hometown Denver Broncos under the microscope.  I’ll also be attending the Monday Night game at Mile High and bringing you my own personal thoughts on the experience.  I’ll try to be as objective as possible, I promise!  The result of that Broncos/Raiders Monday nighter should give us a good idea of where both teams are at.

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