Welcome back, Carolina Panthers fans, to our weekly prediction series!
This is where we make 10 (sorta) bold forecasts on 10 (sorta) specific outcomes. And last season, we (sorta) did kinda well.
Overall, we hit on 88 of our 170 total predictions (51.8 percent correct) with a 10-7 record on the final result. So, can we top it in 2022?
Let’s get started with Sunday’s season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
Matt Rhule wears the smock
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s have a little fun to start off our year of predictions.
Rhule’s famous smock (or infamous depending on who you ask) made a return this preseason. So it seems as though the patented look is back in!
Panthers don't score on their opening possession
AP Photo/Rusty Jones
When you bake something (sorry, we had to), the oven must take time to preheat. So with a new-look group and system in place, the Panthers offense won’t get cooking right from the jump.
Plus, let’s give the Browns defense a bit of credit. They are a pretty talented bunch and did not give up a score on the opening stand in each of their last three outings from 2021.
. . . and neither do the Browns
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Hey, the Panthers have a talented defense, too. And they will deny their opponent of points on their first touch as well.
Expect a run-heavy approach early and often for Cleveland, but their shortcomings under center could stall them throughout the afternoon.
Christian McCaffrey scores the Panthers' first touchdown
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome back, Christian!
After missing 10 games last season (and 13 the season before that), McCaffrey notches the team’s first end-zone visit of 2022. We’ll say it’s a short to intermediate punch-in, perhaps of the 5 to 9-yard variety, to cap off a successful drive in the first half.
Baker Mayfield connects with Rashard Higgins for his first Panthers touchdown
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mayfield isn’t the only former Brown suiting up for the Panthers on Sunday. Higgins get his own revenge, reeling in a 20-yard touchdown grab from his quarterback.
Baker Mayfield finishes with under 250 passing yards and no interceptions
AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman
Carolina’s main mission on offense is to protect the ball, not fly it around. And although Mayfield is known to take his chances at times—he keeps the pigskin close and finishes with an efficient, but relatively tame performance.
Plus, he threw for over 250 yards just twice in 2021. So don’t expect a monstrous, gun-slinging debut quite yet—especially in Week 1.
Myles Garrett picks up two sacks of Baker Mayfield
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
As Panthers rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu settles into the pro game, the two-time First-team All-Pro powers through for a pair of takedowns on the afternoon. Ekwonu, who still has room to improve in the pass-blocking department, was charged with two sacks during preseason play.
Nick Chubb finishes with under 100 rushing yards
AP Photo/Gary McCullough
Speaking of Chubb, he’ll be running into a few arms of his own.
The Panthers defense got off to a ridiculously stingy start against the run last season, allowing a measly 45 rushing yards per contest through the first three weeks. Expect a rejuvenated unit to look more like that, and not like the soft bunch who finished up the 2021 campaign.
Chubb sees at least 20 carries, but not the century mark in yardage.
Christian McCaffrey finishes with at least 150 scrimmage yards
AP Photo/Nell Redmond
Injury worries be damned! The Panthers have themselves a Ferrari and they’re gonna use it.
Look for McCaffrey to be heavily involved, even out of the gate. He gets at least 18 carries and sees around eight balls thrown his way.
AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman
Cleveland might’ve been the better team in 2021, but they’re not the better team now . . . or at least coming into this one. The Panthers ride a relatively clean performance to a one-possession victory.