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.
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:
|Conference Championship Appearances
|Super Bowl Appearances
*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
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.
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]
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)
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.
DNP = Did not participate in practice
LP = Limited Participation
FP = Full Participation
(-) = No Practice Status Available
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
FOX (1:00 PM)
Play-by-Play: Chris Myers
Analyst: Ronde Barber
Sideline: Jennifer Hale
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.