Sharpe Shooter: Bring on the Patriots

 

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original image via Charlotte Observer

Opinion: If the Panthers win the NFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl 50, I want to see the Patriots on the opposite side of the football

CHARLOTTE N.C. – Being the first opinion piece in my column for Bring Back The Buzz, let me breakdown what to expect in this piece, and in future opinion pieces. My column is titled “Sharpe Shooter.” It’s a play on words, referencing my last name. It also alludes to the fact that I have a low tolerance for bullshit…I have a very blunt and straightforward personality. I don’t sugarcoat anything, especially when I have an opinion on something. So without further ado, let me shoot it to you straight: Bring on the Patriots.

With the NFC Championship game on Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals at The Bank, the team and the fans’ primary focus is obviously on the task at hand: Winning the game and securing our second trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history. Without a victory on Sunday, the next step in this historic season isn’t possible. However, diehard Panthers fans can’t help but focus on what is on the backburner: The AFC Championship game, with the winner being our opponent if we advance to the Super Bowl. Myself included, many Panthers fans would like to see the Patriots win the AFC Championship, so if we punch our ticket to Super Bowl 50, we have an instant-classic rematch of Super Bowl 38 – something that still haunts us all 13 years later.

After conducting a Twitter poll, 56 percent of fans that voted wanted to see the Panthers face off against the Patriots. Honestly, I was very surprised at statistic. I predicted a ballpark number around a 70 percent to 30 percent range, in favor of fans wanting the Patriots to be our potential opponent. After the Patriots received a slim percentage of being the favored opponent among fans, I conducted a second Twitter poll. With Patriots vs. Panthers being the matchup that more fans desired, I had to ask the question: Why? Fifty-four percent of voters wanted revenge from Super Bowl 38. Eight percent of voters wanted to dethrone the reigning Super Bowl champions. Thirty-four percent of voters responded to both aforementioned reasons. Personally, I identify with the latter group of voters. I want revenge and to dethrone the reigning champions, as well as to knock the Patriots off the pedestal they’ve been put on since Super Bowl 36. As follower @alexiariggins stated in a reply to the poll, she wants revenge, and argued, “to be the best you’ve got to beat the best.” While I have some strong feelings about the Patriots being “the best,” there is no denying they have been the most successful franchise since the turn of the millennium.

I agree with the voters and the vast majority of Panthers fans: I want revenge. I want to dethrone the reigning Super Bowl champions. Times are changing in the NFL. While a few franchises around the league – including the Panthers – have built a successful, winning platform to ride for the foreseeable future, the Patriots are on the decline. They are doing anything – and everything – to try and keep up (insert references to scandals over the years). Losing Super Bowl 38 to the Patriots still haunts me. The drive down the field leading up to the game-tying touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme to Ricky Proehl with 1:08 left on the clock in the fourth quarter is still one of my favorite on the field moments in franchise history. However, I still feel heartbreak when thinking about the following John Kasay out-of-bounds kickoff, giving the Patriots the perfect field position to set up Adam Vinatieri for the game-winning field goal – which I still hold as the most devastating moment as a fan of any of my sports teams. I still ponder what could’ve happened in overtime.

However, we cannot dwell on Super Bowl 38 forever. We can’t change the past, but we certainly have control over our future. The team is in the driver’s seat to tack the exclamation point onto this historic season. I feel like it is destiny. The team and the fans need to channel our memories and heartbreak from Super Bowl 38 into fuel for a possible matchup versus the Patriots. This is our year. To cap off this historic season, nothing would make a potential Super Bowl victory even sweeter than if it were to be a win over the Patriots. We want the Patriots. I want the Patriots. I have a gut feeling that this is fate, with fate being on our side 13 years later.

 

 

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POLL: Which Team Do Panthers Fans Consider to be Our Biggest Rival?

Original Edit By J3 Digital

Original Edit By J3 Digital

We all have that one team in the NFL that for one reason or another we truly despise and loath. We have heard many different answers over social media and of course every one thinks their answer is the one every one should agree with and that it is pretty unanimous among Panthers fans

***THIS MAY SEEM OBVIOUS AND DUMB TO SAY BUT ONE VOTE PER FAN PLEASE; ITS NOT FUN IF YOU CHEAT***

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Week 1 Preview: Panthers @ Jaguars

 

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Design by J3 Digital

In a week that saw the NFL break more off-the-field news than on, fans and players alike are eager to line up and kick off the 2015 season. And while that was officially done on Thursday night, as the Patriots beat the Steelers 28-21, Carolina will embark on a title-defense of its own tomorrow, against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

1995 EXPANSION

On October 26, 1993 – the NFL announced that its owners had unanimously voted for the Carolinas and Jacksonville to receive the 29th and 30th franchises – its first new teams since 1976. While there’s since been a significant re-alignment of structure in 2002, here’s how each have fared since inception:

Panthers Jaguars
Division Titles 5* 2**
Playoff Record 7-6 5-7
Conference Championship Appearances 3 1
Super Bowl Appearances 1 0

*4 within current alignment, 1 NFC West Title (1996).

**Both titles from defunct AFC Central.

 

It’s evident that Carolina has seen the more successful start, but they find themselves limping into this Week 1 matchup – on a day that all records stand even.

 

An offseason that included season-ending injuries to number one wideout Kelvin Benjamin, and vital rotation piece Frank Alexander – the Panthers will look for new faces to take on greater responsibility, no different than standout rookies Bené Benwikere and Tre Boston did in last season’s playoff push.

 

Jacksonville is no stranger to injury woes, having lost two marquee players in Julius Thomas and Dante Fowler Jr.

 

Thomas, a blockbuster free agent acquisition from Denver, fractured his right hand in his first preseason action in Jacksonville, and will miss the first month of the season after a necessary surgery. Fowler, the Jaguars #3 overall pick, suffered a torn ACL in his very first practice following the draft.

 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

NEW SECONDARY

Free Agent acquisition, Charles Tillman, will lead a revitalized secondary this season [Photo Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

Free Agent acquisition, Charles Tillman, will lead a revitalized secondary this season [Photo Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

This season’s Week 1 Defense will include only one defensive back who started last season’s opener, in Roman Harper. The other three: Melvin White, Antoine Cason, and Thomas Decoud – have all been released from the team. Until Star Lotulelei returns, the Panthers won’t boast the elite defensive line that they’ve fielded in years past – so this new-look secondary will need to step up if the group plans to return to Top 10 prominence.

RUNNING GAME

Jonathan Stewart breaks away for a 69-yard touchdown run against the Saints. [Photo AP - Bill Feig]

Jonathan Stewart breaks away for a 69-yard touchdown run against the Saints. [Photo AP – Bill Feig]

Over the final 6 weeks of 2014, including playoffs, Jonathan Stewart laid down a stat sheet second to only Marshawn Lynch – and looked on film to be one of the most exciting rushers in the league. Monster games against the Saints, Browns, and Cardinals (in which he rushed for over 120 yards each) led the way to an average of 5.1 yards per carry – and helped propel the Panthers to a division title and playoff berth. If he can pick up where he left off, Stewart has the chance to lead this Carolina offense in a fashion that it desperately needs after losing Kelvin Benjamin. Although Ron Rivera noted this offseason that they’d like to limit him to the neighborhood of 15 carries per game, he’s shown that he still has the ability to take over a series, and they won’t steer away from him if he starts rolling. Look for him to get out to a hot start against a Jaguars defense that gave up an average of 127 yards on the ground last season.

 

The Panthers re-elect their 6 team captains from last season. [Image via Panthers.com]

The Panthers re-elect their 6 team captains from last season. [Image via Panthers.com]

SEASON CAPTAINS

Position – Player (Years of Captainship)

 

QB – Cam Newton (3rd)

TE – Greg Olsen (2nd)

C – Ryan Kalil (3rd)

DE – Charles Johnson (3rd)

LB – Thomas Davis (5th)

LB – Luke Kuechly (3rd)

 

LAST MEETING

On the third week of the 2011 season, Cam Newton & Ron Rivera’s rookie year, the Jaguars traveled to Charlotte for a game that featured a torrential downpour, much like that of the memorable 2013 matchup with the Saints. With the Jaguars in the lead for much of the second half, Cam Newton drove down the field with 4 minutes left to play – and completed both a touchdown pass and 2-point conversion to Greg Olsen, notching his first game-winning drive and first career win in the NFL. The game also featured an incredible catch-and-run by Jonathan Stewart, which was called back – noted here by David Newton.

 

 

You can watch the null-and-void Stewart play here.

 

 

INJURY REPORT

NAME POSITION INJURY WED THURS FRI STATUS
Richie Brockel TE Shoulder DNP DNP DNP Out
Nate Chandler OT Knee LP DNP DNP Out
Ryan

Kalil

C Knee LP LP FP Probable
Josh Norman CB Concussion LP LP FP Probable
Teddy Williams CB Groin FP FP FP Probable

 

Practice Status:

DNP = Did not participate in practice

LP = Limited Participation

FP = Full Participation

(-) = No Practice Status Available

 

Game Status:

Out = Player will not play

D = Doubtful (25% chance a player will play)

Q = Questionable (50% chance a player will play)

P = Probable (75% chance a player will play)

(-) = No player status available

 

 

GAME BROADCASTS

 

TELEVISION

 

FOX (1:00 PM)

Play-by-Play: Chris Myers

Analyst: Ronde Barber

Sideline: Jennifer Hale

 

RADIO FLAGSHIP

 

WBT-AM (1110 AM in Charlotte)

Play-by-Play: Mick Mixon

Analysts: Jim Szoke, Eugene Robinson

Sideline: Jordan Gross

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.

Week 1: Practice Update

 Jonathan Stewart leads the running back unit through agility drills. What became a position of worry last season, is one of this year’s deepest groups. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)


Jonathan Stewart leads the running back unit through agility drills. What became a position of worry last season, is one of this year’s deepest groups. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)

(By Austin Stallings)

CHARLOTTE — 11:30 AM

In the shadow of Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers kick off their final few practices before this season’s first meaningful game action.

Not much has changed from last season’s typical practice routine, except for new faces at each Tackle position, a new secondary, a new band of pass catchers… Oh, and the team now syndicates a high-energy music playlist — laden with hits by Future & Drake — to keep the intensity up during times of transition. This means the Panthers have caught on to a trend that’s been making it’s way around the league for years now, and seems to be well-received by players and coaches alike. Alright, on to football:

(by Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Star Lotulelei will participate today, but again without pads. Making his way to the field with an apparent limp, he’ll likely work out solo as he continues to nurse a foot injury suffered early in Training Camp. Based on how little commitment both he and Ron Rivera have shown to his week 1 availability, don’t expect him to take the field against Jacksonville.  All for the better though, as he holds the key to the Panthers returning a top 10 defensive unit for the fourth consecutive year — and will be needed for the long term.

Ryan Kalil, who injured his knee against the Dolphins, appears to be on track to play Sunday — although there’s no need for him to enter any contact situations until then. As an offensive captain who has anchored the line for years now, the veteran’s status will be paramount if the Panthers have any hope to sustain drives early in the year.

Rookie wide receiver Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess approached the field in full pads today after battling through a nagging hamstring issue this preseason. Although Ted Ginn and Philly Brown were named the Week 1 starters on Tuesday, look for Funchess to be moved around the field — both on the outside and in the slot — to create mismatches against smaller defensive backs. Being versatile at the receiver position is something the Michigan product has prided himself on throughout the entire draft process.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Charles Tillman & Josh Norman both donning full pads. While Tillman has already been cleared to play against Jacksonville, Norman still has one more test to pass before he’ll get the green light. Both cornerbacks suffered head injuries in consecutive weeks of preseason action, and both will be vital to the success of the revamped secondary this season.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Always a great sight to see Jonathan Stewart participating in full pads. He’ll look to complete his first 16-game season since 2011, while seeing the top of the depth chart for the first time in his eight year NFL career.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

After sustaining a combination of calf and neck injuries through Training Camp, Charles Johnson has yet to see the field this preseason. All signs are trending upward though, as he’s been a full participant in practice this week and remains adamant that he will start on Sunday.

Don’t fret upon seeing Kony Ealy without shoulder pads, a team intern followed closely behind carrying the rest of his gear. He’s set to start opposite Johnson this Sunday, and will attempt to help replace the 15-sack void left behind by Greg Hardy’s departure for Dallas.

Stay tuned for the Week 1 Preview, which will include the team’s fully updated injury report.

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.

Preseason Week 4: The Last Audition

(Written by Austin Stallings)

If you’ve seen the HBO hit-series, Hard Knocks, you’re well aware that the NFL’s final roster cuts are looming — and as unfortunate as it may be, it’s sometimes the fan-favorites that get sent packing. That is something Panthers fans know too, after seeing wide receiver Jarett Boykin, and cornerback Melvin White waived earlier this week when the roster was trimmed to 75. White was instrumental to the team’s 2013 success, and Boykin was thought to add much-needed depth to the receiving corps, after being claimed from Green Bay’s roster in May. Now heading into the final week of the preseason, the team must trim an additional 23 players by 4:00pm on Saturday — and tonight’s matchup with the Steelers is sure to figure in heavily to the decision.

Look for the starters and roster-safe players to see a series or two at most, before making way for position battles to take place at several positions. As Ron Rivera acknowledged himself, “the final cut we make, no pun intended, is not very clear-cut,” “there are a lot of young guys you let go who can play in this league.”

 Rookie Wide Receiver Devin Funchess will make his return to the field tonight, after being sidelined with a troublesome hamstring. (Image via ESPN)


Rookie Wide Receiver Devin Funchess will make his return to the field tonight, after being sidelined with a troublesome hamstring. (Image via ESPN)

 

Tonight will also mark the return of second-round pick Devin Funchess, who has been sidelined with a troublesome hamstring for most of the preseason. He’ll look to build on a successful Week 1 showing, and give the offense a beacon of hope after what has been a trying preseason. While Funchess should certainly be an upgrade to the current landscape of pass-catchers in Carolina, he won’t be without his rookie growing pains this season, and shouldn’t be expected to fill the impossible void left by an injured Kelvin Benjamin.

Nevertheless, he’ll draw each team’s top defensive back, which should leave more room for the rest of the offense to operate.

Overall, don’t read too much into tonight’s game – as maybe we have for the past three weeks. It will serve as a valuable film-reel for the team’s front office, but even the most accredited analysts can’t predict how final roster cuts will shake out. Between the GM’s vision, and the head coach’s direction – people outside of the building won’t know what the finalized 53 man roster will look like until it’s published. It will be a fun one to watch though, with every player on the field fighting for a job, be it with their current team or otherwise.

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.

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