Panthers' Darnold has playmakers if O-line can protect him

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CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-11)

New faces: QB Sam Darnold, WR Terrace Marshall Jr., TE Dan Arnold, OT Cam Erving, G Pat Elflin, WR David Moore, DE Haason Reddick, DE Morgan Fox, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Frankie Luvu, CB Jaycee Horn, CB A.J. Bouye.

Key losses: WR Curtis Samuel, QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Mike Davis, DT Kawann Short, S Tre Boston, OT Russell Okung, DE Stephen Weatherly.

Strengths: The Panthers have one of the most dynamic players in the league in RB Christian McCaffrey and a pair of returning 1,000-yard receivers in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson along with super-talented rookie WR Terrace Marshall Jr. The big question will be if the offensive line can protect new starting QB Sam Darnold and if he can get the ball to them.

Weaknesses: Carolina's offensive line remains the team's biggest question mark. Cam Erving is expected to start the season at LT, but the team could move Taylor Moton to the left side if Erving struggles. Carolina lacks depth at linebacker. The kicking game has been in flux with Ryan Santoso beating out Joey Slye. But Santoso has never kicked in a regular-season game, so he's untested.

Camp Development: Denzel Perryman was signed to a two-year deal as a free agent and was expected to be the team's starting middle linebacker. Instead, Perryman could never get on the field during training camp due to a hip injury and the team ultimately cut bait, trading him to the Raiders before he ever played a game in Carolina. Instead, undersized Jermaine Carter will start at middle linebacker.

Fantasy Player To Watch: The biggest question is whether McCaffrey can return to his form in 2019 that made him the No. 1 overall pick in many of last year's fantasy drafts. McCaffrey disappointed a lot of fantasy owners because he was only able to play in three games in 2020 due to injuries. He's healthy now, but it remains unclear if he can match the 2019 season when he became only the third NFL player in history to post 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a season.

FanDuel Says: Win Super Bowl: 90-1. Over/under wins: 7 1/2.

Expectations: Carolina's defense, led by defensive end Brian Burns and safety Jeremy Chinn, is expected to carry this team, which could be a wild-card playoff contender if it gets off to a strong start. Realistically, the Panthers are probably another year away from competing for a division title with the loaded defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

The Associated Press

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