Any time that a team goes 15-1 in the previous year’s regular season, there’s an obvious reason to expect them to once again be a serious Super Bowl contender. The Carolina Panthers were essentially dominant last season, and the end result was a Super Bowl appearance — a game where they lost to Peyton Manning and that pesky Denver Broncos defense. Carolina has a tough task in front of them when it comes to repeating as NFC champions, and we’re taking a look at five teams that the Carolina Panthers need to worry about during the 2016–17 season. What better place to start than with the team that defeated them in the Super Bowl?
1. Denver Broncos
While the Denver Broncos did lose quite a bit of talent this offseason, including quarterback Brock Osweiler, they’re still expected to do some damage. Even more importantly, the Panthers have to start off their 2016 NFL season against the Broncos with a Thursday night game on August 8 in Denver. Playing at Mile High Stadium is never easy, but you can bet that the Carolina Panthers will have revenge on their mind. Will it be enough? Starting out 0-1 after a season in which the Panthers lost one game in 16 would be an interesting flip of the script, but regardless, this may be one of the toughest games of Carolina’s season.
2. Arizona Cardinals
The good news for the Carolina Panthers is that their Week 8 matchup against the Cardinals is right after their bye week, and it’s also on their home field. The bad news? The Cardinals probably have a really nasty taste in their mouth after losing to the Panthers in the playoffs during each of the past two seasons. Arizona is going to be all-in for revenge in this game, and the Cardinals could give the Panthers troubles far beyond just this one single game, as the two teams could wind up meeting in the postseason as well.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Yes. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While many people are still underestimating this group, they’ve got talent all over the field on both sides of the ball. It wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprising to see the Buccaneers make a playoff push this year, and Carolina’s season wraps up in Week 17 with a road game against Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay. To go along with that, the first time these two teams play is in Week 5, in a Monday Night Football game on the Carolina Panthers’ home turf. The Panthers do have the edge there but don’t expect Tampa Bay to roll over. The Buccaneers are a dangerous bunch in 2016–17.
4. Seattle Seahawks
After the 2015–16 season, the Seahawks probably really, really dislike the Panthers. Seattle went 0-2 against Carolina last season, including a 31-24 loss in the playoffs. Now, the Panthers have to head to Seattle in Week 13 for a Sunday Night Football Matchup. If you think that brutal Seattle fanbase won’t be ready to make an impact on the game, then think again. Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense really clicked down the homestretch of 2015, and that revamped offense could cause some problems for Carolina. Let’s also not forget the chance that the Panthers and Seahawks could square off in the playoffs, making things even more interesting.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Lost in the mix of talented NFL teams, people seem to consistently forget about the Chiefs. This is a team who won 10 straight games to finish the 2015 season and did so without star running back Jamaal Charles. With Charles back, an offense that’s capable of putting up points, and a painfully dangerous defense, the Panthers need to keep their eye out for the Week 10 matchup against Kansas City. Expect Andy Reid to have his team ready to face off against Cam Newton and that talented Panthers group. Are the Chiefs Super Bowl contenders? Find a weakness on their team, because it’s not easy to do currently, so the argument for them to win the AFC West is real.