NFL 2018 power rankings countdown No. 12: Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 5, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 5, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

A preview of the Carolina Panthers ahead of the 2018 season.

Check back every day for a new 2018 team preview in this year’s NFL power rankings countdown.

Today’s team is the Carolina Panthers.

12. Carolina Panthers

Keegan’s highest rated player: Luke Kuechly, linebacker

Biggest strength: Front seven

Biggest weakness: Wide receiver

Best offseason move: Signing Dontari Poe

Worst offseason move: Not replacing Marty Hurney at general manager

Game to circle on calendar: Week 15, vs. New Orleans

Breakout candidate: Donte Jackson, cornerback

Key players in contract years: C.J. Anderson, Cameron Artis-Payne, Devin Funchess, Ryan Kalil, Daryl Williams, Julius Peppers, Thomas Davis, Mike Adams, and Colin Jones

Offensive preview

Cam Newton will be hit or miss most games this season, and as a result the Panthers’ offense won’t live up to its full potential. Luckily, the Panthers’ defense will be able to keep them in most games, but Newton’s inconsistency will be a concern.

Christian McCaffrey didn’t live up to the high expectations set for him last year, but don’t be surprised if he rebounds in his sophomore season. The addition of C.J. Anderson will help this backfield, but it would have been nice if they kept Jonathan Stewart around.

Drafting D.J. Moore in the first round added much-needed depth to the receiving corps, but they will be thin at the position if Moore isn’t a contributor from day one. By far the most intriguing player in this receiving corps is Curtis Samuel, who has impeccable speed. Hopefully the team can salvage what’s left in Torrey Smith.

The Panthers will benefit from having a fully healthy Greg Olsen at tight end. Olsen will once again be Newton’s top option in the passing game. It’ll be interesting to see how often rookie tight end Ian Thomas is used in this offense. These two could make for a decent one-two combo at tight end.

Losing Andrew Norwell will have a huge impact on the offensive line, similar to when the Cardinals lost Calais Campbell in free agency to the Jaguars (same team Norwell went to), only it’s on a different side of the line. This offensive line will also struggle down the stretch if Daryl Williams can’t get healthy in time. The line won’t be terrible, but it’ll be a lot worse early in the year than it was last season.

Defensive preview

The Panthers have arguably the best front-seven in the NFL. Honestly every starter in their front seven is an above-average player for their position. Even though the Panthers lost Star Lotulelei in free agency, they improved at defensive tackle by bringing in Dontari Poe.

One player that isn’t getting talked about much is Julius Peppers, who’ll still dominate offensive linemen at the age of 38. He’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. The strongest player on the line this season will be Kawann Short, who is a premier defensive lineman.

The Panthers have three premier linebackers with Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson and Thomas Davis. Kuechly will be an All-Pro this season (if he can stay healthy).

The secondary is a bit of a concern. It’s struggled to recover after losing Josh Norman, despite James Bradberry‘s success. Captain Munnerlyn will continue to bring veteran leadership to this secondary, but the only players worth being excited about (besides Bradberry) are speedy rookie Donte Jackson and Mike Adams.

Coaching staff/front office preview

If the Panthers miss the playoffs this season, Ron Rivera could end up on the hot seat. It would be a foolish decision to fire Rivera, even if they miss the playoffs. I hope ownership remembers what this team was like before Rivera got there.

The Panthers made a dumb decision removing the interim tag from Marty Hurney and making him the general manager once again. He did a terrible job with this team (with the exception of a few draft picks) during his first tenure with the Panthers. The team would have been better off going with fresh blood to lead the front office (or just keeping Dave Gettlemen for that matter).

Overall outlook for 2018

The Panthers will have a shot at getting back to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years this season. The success of this team will once again be on the shoulders of Cam Newton, but there are reasons to be concerned about his consistency as a passer (he hasn’t had a completion percentage past the 60 percent mark for an entire season since 2013).

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Previous teams:

13. Tennessee Titans
14. Denver Broncos
15. Dallas Cowboys
16. Kansas City Chiefs
17. Seattle Seahawks
18. New York Giants
19. San Francisco 49ers
20. Indianapolis Colts
21. Detroit Lions
22. Arizona Cardinals
23. Chicago Bears
24. Oakland Raiders
25. Baltimore Ravens
26. Washington Redskins
27. Cleveland Browns
28. Buffalo Bills
29. New York Jets
30. Cincinnati Bengals
31. Miami Dolphins
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers