The Carolina Panthers kick off their regular season schedule with a Week 1 visit to Jacksonville on Sunday.
Cam Newton and the Panthers, the defending NFC South champions are already without star receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who is out for the year and may be without another other key starter in defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. For the Jaguars, second-year quarterback Blake Bortles will look to build on an uneven rookie season without the help of star Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas, who is out after having hand surgery in the preseason.
Here are three keys to the game for the Panthers.
1. Don't force Cam Newton to carry the load
The Panthers have been known to let Newton carry the team. This season, with Benjamin out for the year, the Panthers badly need to have a nice mix of both run and pass to have success. Forcing Newton into situations where he has to pass to receivers who aren't legitimate number ones is asking for a disaster.
2. Make Blake Bortles' life miserable
In 2014, the Panthers were No. 10 in the NFL in total yards allowed and No. 11 in passing yards allowed per game. While running back T.J. Yeldon is a complete wild card at this point, the Panthers simply need to wreak havoc on Bortles. The worse they make things for Bortles, the easier it'll be to walk away with a win.
3. Use Greg Olsen early and often
The Carolina offense seemed to struggle early in games throughout the preseason. That is, until Olsen got involved. He's the most consistent player on this offense, and Newton badly needs to use him as a safety blanket. With Carolina unsure of which receivers will step up, the Panthers need to focus on the one consistent they have in the passing game, which is Olsen.