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NFL power rankings countdown to training camp: Carolina Panthers, No. 25

The 2021 NFL training camp is just around the corner. We break down the top 32 teams. Today, we look at the Carolina Panthers who rank No. 25 in our preseason power rankings.

Why Christian McCaffrey will hit his over

The 2020 Carolina Panthers were statistically average, but with a below average quarterback they had little chance to win games. Teddy Bridgewater isn’t awful, but he needs a strong defense so the onus isn’t put on his throwing arm.Maybe he can get that in Denver, but Carolina needs to score points while their young defensive unit works to improve. It of course didn’t help that star running back Christian McCaffrey was hurt most of the season, but a change needed to be made.

The Panthers went hard after difference making quarterbacks this offseason, but ended up falling back on Jets castoff Sam Darnold. Darnold is an upgrade in raw talent, but will Matt Rhule and Joe Brady be able to turn his career trajectory around?

2020 record

5-11, 3rd in NFC South

2020 defense

Points: 25.1 points per game, rank 18th
Yards: 5.6 yards per play, rank 16th (tied with 3 teams)
Football Outsiders Ranking: 24th

2020 offense

Points: 21.9 points per game, rank 24th
Yards: 5.6 yards per play, rank 17th
Football Outsiders Ranking: 17th

2021 DraftKings Sportsbook odds

Super Bowl: +7000
AFC/NFC Champion: +3000
DIVISION: +1100
Win Total: 7.5 (Over +110, Under -134)

Offseason moves

By far the biggest move was trading for the Jets No. 3 overall pick in 2018 Sam Darnold. Darnold was disappointing in New York, but he also didn’t have much help. They let wide receiver Curtis Samuel go in free agency and franchise tagged their best offensive lineman Taylor Moton. They went with cornerback Jaycee Horn with their first pick in the draft and then grabbed receiver Terrace Marshall and the tackle Brady Christensen in the second and third rounds.

Getting McCaffrey back and healthy is going to be huge for the offense, but he’s not going to turn them into a playoff team by himself. In the end it was an offseason where they probably did they best they could, but will be judged on Darnold’s play.

Biggest question entering training camp

There were flashes with the Jets that proved Darnold can play in this league, but there was little consistency. Brady’s offense, especially with McCaffrey healthy, should help Darnold no matter what, but he’s still a big question mark going into 2021.

What needs to happen for the Panthers to win the Super Bowl?

The defense will need to take a big step forward while Darnold will need to be the next Ryan Tannehill in his new home. There is a lot of upside in Carolina and expectations should probably be higher than they are. Super Bowl is too high, but

2021 Outlook

I like the coaching staff and the offensive pieces and Darnold won’t have to do it all by himself. If that defense can step up, they have a shot at a winning record in 2021.