Carolina Panthers

Fearless predictions: Taylor Heinicke goes deep early, gives struggling Panthers juice

Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers (6-8) game against the Atlanta Falcons (5-9)

1. Crack open a Heinicke

Panthers players and coaches are really excited to see backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke on Sunday, as starter Cam Newton rests with a shoulder injury.

I think the Panthers go aggressive out of the gate to give Heinicke some juice. Within his first four passes, he’ll unfurl the deep ball.

In fact, the Panthers have already used a play they saw the Cleveland Browns run earlier this year. They might take a page out of Freddie Kitchens’ book and have Heinicke take a deep shot on his first snap, to speedy receiver Curtis Samuel.

2. Everything but the kitchen sink

Carolina will want to get creative with their offensive playbook, and perhaps throw out some wrinkles to a Falcons team that otherwise knows them all too well. I predict at least two trick plays in the first half, and one will go for a score.

3. McCaffrey breaks receptions record

It might sound crazy to project 10 catches on Sunday for running back/receiver Christian McCaffrey, but he had 14 in a Week 2 loss to Atlanta.

And he only needs 10 catches to break the franchise receptions record of 103 in a season, held by Steve Smith Sr.

4. A solemn home farewell to some

Veteran center Ryan Kalil will play his last home game in Bank of America Stadium on Sunday afternoon, and it will probably be veteran defensive end Julius Peppers’ last game there, too. And with veteran linebacker Thomas Davis’ future with the organization still unclear, it will be an emotional day for all as these Panthers stalwarts take the field.

5. Panthers break the losing streak

Heinicke manages an efficient game that maximizes young, fast playmakers. The high level of emotion over the last home game for some catapults the Panthers to a 31-17 win.

Falcons at Panthers


Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte


Sunday, 1 p.m.