Scott Fowler

Will this Panthers season opener flame out like last year’s? My prediction

In the tone-setting season opener of 2016, quarterback Cam Newton (on ground) was checked on by tight end Greg Olsen after a fourth-quarter hit. Carolina lost the game, 21-20, after Graham Gano failed to make a 50-yard field goal with nine seconds to go.
In the tone-setting season opener of 2016, quarterback Cam Newton (on ground) was checked on by tight end Greg Olsen after a fourth-quarter hit. Carolina lost the game, 21-20, after Graham Gano failed to make a 50-yard field goal with nine seconds to go. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Openers don’t mean everything.

Whether the Carolina Panthers win or lose Sunday at San Francisco, the season continues and may well turn on a dime.

There is plenty of proof of that fact: The 2001 Panthers, for instance, won their first game and then lost 15 in a row. The 2013 Panthers lost their first game – and three of their first four – before ending up 12-4 and winning the NFC South.

Nevertheless, count me in the camp that believes that an opener has an outsized importance.

“It sets a tone, a tempo,” head coach Ron Rivera said of any season opener. Nowhere was that more evident than in 2016, when Carolina played a gritty and generally good game at Denver in a Super Bowl rematch despite the fact that quarterback Cam Newton was just about beheaded on several occasions.

Newton still somehow got Carolina into a spot for Graham Gano to make the 50-yard, game-winning field goal in high altitude – and then Gano missed it. That game indeed did set a tone and a tempo – the Panthers never totally recovered.

An opener against San Francisco should be just what the doctor ordered. The Panthers have avoided Hurricane Irma by flying across the country and are playing a San Francisco team that went 2-14 in 2016.

The 49ers are trying to implement a new system, break in a new coach and quarterback and overhaul basically the entire team on the fly. It shouldn’t be that difficult to beat San Francisco – at least that’s what you would think. You would have also thought that New England would beat Kansas City at home instead of what actually happened Thursday night to open the entire regular season.

▪  The Panthers last played in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., in February 2016, when they lost the Super Bowl to Denver. That’s interesting, but it has absolutely no effect on this game.

▪  If you haven’t noticed yet, I am now doing a weekly fantasy football video that is posted on CharlotteObserver.com on Wednesday or Thursday each week. Great TV it is not. However, if you play fantasy football as I do, you may want to check it out.

▪  OK, prediction time. I already offered up my prediction for the 2017 season, which was 10-6 and a playoff berth for Carolina. That’s somewhat optimistic compared to the status quo, and for the Panthers to get to 10 victories they have to win games like these.

My pick: Carolina 26, San Francisco 19.

Fowler: 704-358-5140; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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