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Panthers’ schedule sets up nicely after rough start

The Carolina Panthers have been flat out bad to start the 2016 season. After falling short on opening night in a 21-20 loss to reigning Super Bowl champion Denver, the Panthers have gone 1-4 with their lone win coming against 1-5 San Francisco.

Carolina is coming off a bye week and will host Arizona before traveling to Los Angeles. After that, the Panthers host Kansas City and New Orleans. That schedule may seem tough for the most part, but the Panthers have a chance in all four games after regaining their breath and determination.

Amazingly, Carolina still ranks fourth in total offense (394.3 yards), but the defense ranks 24th (371.5). In terms of points per game, the Panthers are in fifth (26.8). Between Cam Newton and Derek Anderson, the two quarterbacks have 10 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a QB rating of 80.4.

Newton is going to have put this team on his back much like Drew Brees does in New Orleans. Carolina’s defense is not getting better and it doesn’t appear it will anytime soon. Newton missed one game due to a concussion, but he hasn’t been himself thus far with eight touchdowns, six interceptions and three scores on the ground. After last year’s MVP season, Newton has a QB rating of just 81.2 and doesn’t look nearly as confident or successful as 2015. Injuries could have played a part in the process, but either way, the Panthers need him to be better to have a chance at a turnaround.

He has 148 rushing yards on 31 carries. Compare that to his total through five games a year ago, 225 yards, and that isn’t really what we have come to expect from the 27-year-old. He’s averaging career lows in carries per game (6.2) and rushing yards per game (29.6).

Head coach Ron Rivera doesn’t seem to be worried, though.

“Cam was not limited at all in his mobility. I thought that he made some really good decisions,” Rivera told Panthers.com. “We scored 38 points. It just shows you what he was out there doing. When you score 38 points, you need to give yourself more of a chance to win.”

The offense has been all about tight end Greg Olsen, who has 39 catches for 610 yards and two scores already this season. He has five or more catches in every game, including a nine-catch, 181-yard performance against Tampa Bay two weeks ago on Monday Night Football. Last season, Olsen had 439 receiving yards and three touchdowns through six games, so yeah, he is that much better this year. With Kelvin Benjamin back in the mix and Devin Funchess taking a step forward as a starter, that has helped the receiving game, especially Olsen.

Just like Newton being counted on to win games, the Panthers need Olsen to be a consistent pass catcher and threat to stretch the field.

Carolina’s defense isn’t what it used to be, but the defensive line still has playmakers and if they can come alive here at the midway point of the season, that will help Newton’s cause.

There are a lot more “if’s” for the Panthers than we have seen with them over the years. Newton, Olsen and the defensive front are three things Carolina needs to lean on to have a chance.

And things are setting up nicely for a second-half comeback.

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