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Sports Illustrated writer predicts Panthers' 2018 record

NFL teams are knee-deep into the doldrums of the offseason, meaning bold predictions, top-10 lists and season prognostications are popping up left and right across the internet as fans and media try to find something to occupy their time before training camp arrives in late July and the season officially opens in September.

Sports Illustrated became the latest notable media outlet to put together its season predictions for each NFL team's schedule on Monday, and these picks should be of interest to Carolina Panthers fans. That's because former team beat writer Jonathan Jones, who used to work for the Charlotte Observer before moving on to Sports Illustrated, pieced together these picks for all 32 teams. And Jones, who typically has a strong grasp on the Panthers due to his past connections within the organization, picked a respectable 11-5 final mark for the Panthers, which would match their output from a season ago and give the team its first consecutive winning seasons in franchise history.

"I have no clue how well the Norv Turner-Cam Newton arranged marriage is going to work. But I believe this Panthers team has enough talent at starting positions that it won’t be that big a deal, especially after some inconsistent years with Mike Shula as offensive coordinator," Jones wrote. "Carolina upgraded its receiving group with D.J. Moore and Torrey Smith but never really took care of the guard position vacated by Andrew Norwell. Carolina’s defensive line is still one of the league’s best even after losing Star Lotulelei to free agency, and the secondary is still the soft spot outside of cornerback James Bradberry."

Along with his record predictions, Jones also picked each team's most pivotal game. To no surprise, one of the late-season matchups with the Saints was Jones' pick: Week 15 against New Orleans inside Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium on Monday Night Football. Seeing as Jones has both the Saints and Falcons going 12-4, and the Panthers missing the playoffs with their 11-5 record, that Week 15 contest - and the Week 17 matchup in New Orleans two weekends later - could both be make or break games for the Panthers. The NFL really did neither team much favor with the schedule, but Carolina especially seemed to get the short-end of the stock. Regardless of how well the Panthers do during the majority of their season, their playoff and division title hopes will likely rest on the final three games of the year: vs. New Orleans, vs. Atlanta and @ New Orleans. Three matchups against division rivals and playoff-caliber teams.

As somewhat of a surprise, Jones has the Buccaneers finishing with a paltry 2-13-1 overall record to bring up the rear in the NFC South. Other playoff teams from Jones' picks include the Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. (247sports)

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