During July, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be analyzing the schedules of every team in the NFL and ranking each game in order of difficulty (with one being most difficult). The series will be split up into the eight most difficult games (ranked 1-8) and the eight easiest games (ranked 9-16) for each team. In this article, the Carolina Panthers most difficult games are the focus.
Carolina Panthers Most Difficult Games in 2016
1. Week 1 at Denver Broncos
The Panthers toughest game of the season will be the very first game of the year on the road against the defending World Champion Denver Broncos. The two last met in Super Bowl 50 where the Broncos defense was too much for the Carolina offense, despite a closely contested game. Both teams have lost key players in the offseason, which could make this game much different than last season’s Super Bowl.
The Panthers most notably lost Josh Norman and Brad Nortman in free agency. The Broncos lost Malik Jackson, Brock Osweiler, and Danny Trevathan. The Panthers will have an almost entirely different secondary facing the Broncos new quarterbacks, whether it be Paxton Lynch or Mark Sanchez. Von Miller will be staying in Denver for years to come, so the Panthers will need to make sure they do more to stop him in Week 1 than they did in Super Bowl 50.
2. Week 3 vs Minnesota Vikings
The Panthers will be facing the very underrated but lethal Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were a hair away from making it to the NFC divisional round of the playoffs last season if it weren’t for the laces being out when Blair Walsh attempted a game-winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Vikings have a hot-shot young quarterback under center, Teddy Bridgewater, who makes leaps and bounds in development every season. They also have a lethal receiving core. Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, and Jarius Wright are among the receivers who will give the Panthers cornerbacks the most trouble. The Vikings have also re-signed safety Harrison Smith, who is among the best safeties in the NFL and should be accounted for. Clemson’s own Mackenzie Alexander will be making an appearance in the nickel corner position for the Vikings as well.
3. Week 8 vs Arizona Cardinals
The Panthers will be facing the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC Championship rematch from last season. The Panthers blew the Cardinals out in the championship game last season with their scorching passing game and lock down defense. Carson Palmer was flustered by the Panthers defence, throwing four interceptions and fumbling twice. The Cardinals still have the same blistering receiving corps from last season, so they will still be something to watch out for, especially against a young and inexperienced Panthers secondary.
4. Week 12 at Oakland Raiders
The Panthers will be flying to Oakland to face a fairly underrated, but deadly Raiders team. This Raiders team features Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and Derek Carr. The Raiders also signed Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith in the offseason.
This Raiders squad is no joke anymore, especially with coach Jack Del Rio at the helm, and is nothing like the disastrous teams of the past decade or so. Del Rio led the Jaguars to multiple winning seasons and playoff births. This will be a hard fought, gritty football game and it should be entertaining throughout. These rookie cornerbacks against wide receiver Amari Cooper will be something to watch out for.
5. Week 13 at Seattle Seahawks
Seattle and Carolina have some bad blood after the past few seasons. The Panthers finally came away with wins against Seattle last season, but before that it was an all Seattle show. These two teams match up brilliantly, so their games are usually incredibly close.
This game will absolutely be no different.
The Panthers will be looking forward to defeating the Seahawks for the third consecutive game. Seattle will be looking for revenge from last season’s NFC Divisional round loss handed to them. This game may be especially difficult for the Panthers because they are playing in Seattle, the loudest stadium in the NFL.
6. Week 15 at Washington Redskins
The Panthers travel to Washington D.C. to face their former defensive outlaw, Josh Norman. The Redskins will need to rely heavily on Norman and the other members of their secondary to combat the Panthers blistering offense, mainly in part to their front seven not being nearly as strong as Norman is used to playing for.
This game may not be near as tough as others for the Panthers, but Kirk Cousins and Desean Jackson have been known to throw a curve ball every now and then. The Redskins are not a team to sleep on. The Panthers learned this last season when Jackson torched their secondary for a wide open touchdown. The Redskins will be looking for revenge after getting blown out by the Panthers last season, mainly due to Cam Newton throwing for five touchdown passes.
7. Week 14 vs San Diego Chargers
The Panthers take on the San Diego Chargers in Charlotte. The Chargers had a dismal season in 2015 mainly due to injury. In particular, the injury of Keenan Allen hurt the Chargers when he went down in Week 8. Allen is going to be a tough task for the young and inexperienced Panthers secondary. By week 14, the Panthers cornerbacks may be over their growing pains. However, Allen is a threat to even the best.
8. Week 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are slated to be head over heels better than last season, especially with the development on Winston under center. Doug Martin is always a tough task to face in any game, along with Mike Evans. But the real difference this year will be the addition of rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
Hargreaves is a long, fast, and ball hawking cornerback that will really test the Panthers passing game. The Buccaneers better be prepared for the Panthers blistering running attack featuring Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and Fozzy Whittaker.
Be sure and check out the eight easiest games on the 2016 Carolina Panthers schedule.