Listen Live

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers

by Sharon Thorsland

The season opener is finally here as the Panthers travel down I-85 to take on division rival Atlanta on Sunday. It will be the debut of rookie quarterback Bryce Young, who saw limited reps in the preseason but has been deemed ready to take the reigns of the offense by coaches and teammates alike. “He’s been incredible,” said offensive lineman Brady Christiansen. “He just commands the huddle, very confident, very intelligent. I’ve been very impressed with him.”

The Falcons went 7-10 last season and also have a new quarterback, with second year player Desmond Ridder taking over after the failed Marcus Mariota experiment. He played well enough in the final four games last season to convince the Falcons to trust him with the offense, throwing for 708 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Ridder has some big targets in 6’4 receivers Drake London and former Tar Heel Mack Hollins, plus 6’6 tight end Kyle Pitts. But the Falcons bread and butter comes on the ground – they ranked third in the NFL last season averaging nearly 160 rushing yards per game. They’ll be even better this year after drafting former Texas star Bijan Robinson with the 8th overall pick. Robinson teams with 11-year veteran Cordarelle “Flash” Patterson and second year player Tyler Allgeier, who ran for over 1,000 yards as a rookie. “They’ve got a three-headed monster back there,” said linebacker Shaq Thompson. “We’ve got to make sure we go out there and play physical, play fast and try to make them one-dimensional.”

The Falcons defense ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category last season so they got a new defensive coordinator and brought in a slew of new players, including All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell and former Steelers edge rusher Bud Dupree. The secondary now features veteran safety and former Wake Forest standout Jesse Bates along with veteran cornerback Jeff Okudah and lock down corner AJ Terrell. The Panthers could be down several receivers in this one as DJ Chark, Adam Thielen and Terrace Marshall Jr. have all been dinged up.

This is going to be fun – we finally get to see the Panthers’ new offensive and defensive schemes after they kept things close to the vest during the preseason. And according to plenty of players, we should be impressed. “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” said edge rusher Justin Houston. “I think a lot of people, the league is sleeping on us as a whole.