The 2020 NFL season is still a few months away but that won’t stop us from looking for value picks.
Franchises looked poised to play this year despite the COVID concerns, even if that means games are played without fans in attendance. We know we’ll be betting regardless of whether we’re watching from home or in the stands.
One of the hot topics in the loaded NFC South is how well Matt Rhule and his Carolina Panthers will perform. Even as Tampa Bay and New Orleans rack up headlines, Carolina looms as a tough competitor filled with young talent. Rhule’s hire of offensive coordinator Joe Brady and the signing of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could make them a surprising upstart.
We’re going to look at the expectations for Bridgewater and this Panthers team. I’m optimistic about their future, though 2020 may not bear immediate fruit due to their youth and reliance on unproven coaches and talent. Let’s dig in.
Who is Teddy Bridgewater?
The 2014 first-round pick was a favorite for much of Twitter’s evaluating pool due to his excellent accuracy, toughness in the pocket, and reliability as a passer. Though Bridgewater would never be confused for a prolific downfield passer, he’s always fit the efficiency model that many average or slightly-better quarterbacks find long-term roles in. A severe knee injury led to his departure from Minnesota, but Bridgewater had some success with a terrible supporting cast until his knee was shredded to bits on a non-contact injury.
Fast-forward to his backup role in New Orleans last year after fully recovering from his knee setback, and Bridgewater showed high competence and solid promise as a starter in the NFL. The Saints employ a quarterback-friendly system that rewards precision, timing, and pre-snap intelligence. It was perfect for Bridgewater, and the team found success with him at the helm even if he wasn’t an explosive passer.
Pairing with former Sean Payton disciple Joe Brady should continue giving Bridgewater a realistic system to operate within. Brady famously guided Joe Burrow’s massive ascent at LSU in 2019, where his quick-timing passing game was balanced with inside zone runs and well-timed downfield attempts. He was masterful at LSU, and Rhule rolled the dice by bringing in the assistant after an incredible but short run.
Brady will surely miss Burrow’s creativity out of the pocket and aggressiveness attacking certain passing windows because Bridgewater doesn’t like to pass up layups. Bridgewater’s not as frustrating as Kirk Cousins or Derek Carr in this area but even in New Orleans he’d take the safe route too often for a difference-making quarterback. Hopefully, his three-year deal gives him more confidence to make mistakes downfield.
How He Fits With Brady and This Offense
The Panthers’ set of playmakers and fit with Brady is exciting. The receiving trio of D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson is a young, explosive one and offers a high upside in Brady’s scheme. Brady has shown experience creating yards after the catch opportunities while also putting route combinations that spur big plays for the quarterback to simply execute on.
Payton didn’t have the depth of weapons to prop Bridgewater up into big numbers consistently, as Michael Thomas was the only dominant force on the roster. Even Alvin Kamara showed major signs of slowing down as he dealt with an injury. Carolina, with those receivers, Ian Thomas and obviously Christian McCaffrey, are an impressively varying group.
Bridgewater isn’t Brees, and likely won’t create an insane amount of production outside of the scheme, but he’ll execute and keep the offense on track as much as he and the scheme possibly can. If the offensive line isn’t a train wreck, this group should be around average for NFL offenses.
Of course, the line is a place of contention. Center Matt Paradis is very good, and left tackle Russell Okung is solid when healthy. But as much as I like Taylor Moton’s skill set, he and the guards have to prove to be reliable starters.
Maybe they will, and Rhule’s tough-nosed approach and Brady’s scheme will elevate a bleak guard situation. The decision to trade Trai Turner was surprising and must be overcome somehow. One injury to this unit or McCaffrey could absolutely ruin their entire season.
Expect lots of throws to about 15 yards and under. Bridgewater’s accuracy is fantastic to this zone, and the occasional deep shot is something he can realistically hit. Defenses have to respect those deep passes, or else this offense will bog down and look like many of the below-average units that have been held back by the likes of uber-conservative quarterbacks like Alex Smith in the past.
That doesn’t mean Bridgewater can’t grow and improve now that he’s the man but it’s important to note who he’s been to this point in his career. I thoroughly enjoy his passing style and the nuance in his game but more is needed to win at a high level with this team. That may be unrealistic to expect.
They’ll have to put up points to compete in a division filled with offensive firepower, and this defense is severely lacking in proven NFL talent. A defense led by Brian Burns, Tre Boston, and Shaq Thompson will be limited unless several young starters breakout to a new level. I struggle to see offenses led by Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan having too many issues outsourcing this Panthers team.
I think this team will be fun to watch and punishing to play against, but ultimately is more of a “tough win” every week than a true competitor. Four our NFL picks I’m taking the under on their team success, but I am optimistic 2021 and beyond will bring great fruits. I’d think Bridgewater would be termed as replaceable if they have the opportunity to land Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields despite his projected numbers looking strong. Bridgewater is a starting-level talent but he has to show the playmaking side to be more confident in his upside.
Projected Stat Line:
- 64% completion rate
- 3,844 yards
- 23 touchdowns
- 11 interceptions