1. One of the more anticipated reveals this NFL season will be Cam Newton (QB9), two years removed from an MVP award but one year removed from his worst season, and the Panthers offense integrating rookie playmakers and mismatch creators Christian McCaffrey (RB15) and Curtis Samuel. They could put on quite a show Sunday in San Francisco, where the Niners’ once-proud defense sunk to record franchise futility before cleaning house and, like Carolina, largely building a new scheme with plenty of moving parts.
Newton attempted all of two passes — both completions, one for a touchdown – this preseason as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. But other encouraging signs emanated from the Panthers, such as McCaffrey, who’ll make his debut just down the road from his familiar Stanford stomping ground, averaging 6.9 yards per touch and showing versatility, yes, but also impressive play speed and strength; Samuel is on track to play after missing much of the preseason with a hamstring injury; and Kelvin Benjamin was as dominant as any veteran wideout this preseason, finding the end zone twice and, perhaps equally important for a player with inconsistent hands, snaring everything in his direction.
Yes, this is another backfield requiring role clarity, as Jonathan Stewart also looked fresh in the preseason and has the power to handle the early-down work and plunges near the goal line — and lest we forget, there may be no one better in the game at doing exactly that than Newton.
But we’re envisioning roughly 18-20 touches for McCaffrey in his debut, several of them coming underneath as a receiver against fellow rookie stud Reuben Foster. If this was against a better defense, we might recommend watching from the sideline as Carolina’s new offense gets its feet wet. But against the Niners’ last-ranked scoring defense (27th in the red zone), with Vegas envisioning Carolina scoring 29 points, let the Cats out of the bag immediately.