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First Look: Panthers' dynamic backfield will present stiff test in regular season opener

Los Angeles opens the 2019 regular season at Carolina with kickoff set for 10 a.m. pacific time.

In advance of the contest, here's an early look at the Panthers, including notable additions, some of their top statistical performers from 2018 and key storylines.

Notable additions

  • Signed unrestricted free agent LB Bruce Irvin to a one-year deal in March. Irvin spent the first half of the season with the Raiders before getting waived by Oakland. He was later picked up by the Atlanta Falcons, with whom he played the final eight games of the regular season with. Irvin collected 19 total tackles, 13 QB hits and 6.5 sacks in 2018.
  • Signed unrestricted free agent C Matt Paradis to a three-year deal in March. Paradis started 57 consecutive games with the Broncos before suffering season-ending fractured fibula midway through last season. He's slated to start at center with Ryan Kalil retiring, then coming out of retirement to join the New York Jets this offseason.

Top performers

QB Cam Newton led the Panthers' passing attack, completing 320 of 471 attempts for 3,395 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. 

RB Christian McCaffrey paced Carolina's offense in both rushing and receiving. He carried the ball a team-high 219 times for 1,098 yards and seven scores, adding 107 catches for 867 yards and six touchdowns. 

LB Luke Kuechly posted a team-high 130 total tackles for the Panthers' defense, eighth-most among all defensive players during the 2018 regular season and second-most among all middle linebackers. 

CB Donte Jackson led the secondary with four interceptions. 

On special teams, kicker Graham Gano was 14 of 16 on field goal attempts last season but was placed on injured reserve last week with a season-ending left leg injury.

Early storylines to watch, and what they mean for the Rams

The loss of Gano figures to have a significant impact on the Panthers' special teams. 

Carolina's kicker since 2012, Gano has played in 98 games over the last seven years. Notably, he was the league's most accurate kicker in 2017, converting on 96.7 percent of attempts. 

Second-year kicker Joey Slye will replace Gano. An undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech in 2018, Slye converted 7 of 8 field goal attempts in the preseason, including a 59-yarder in the finale. 

Elsewhere, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said "there is no doubt in my mind" Newton will be ready for this week's opener against the Rams. Newton dealt with a mild foot sprain during the preseason but took all of his scheduled reps in practice on Sept. 2.

In short, Los Angeles' defense should expect a fully healthy Newton, one of the league's top dual-threat playmakers who will test the Rams. Its field goal defense will be facing an inexperienced kicker who has shown he's capable of filling in for Gano but will be playing in his first-ever NFL regular season game, so if there's an area that could swing the game for the Rams at first glance, it's likely special teams.

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