There’s no NFL team that the Buffalo Bills enjoy playing more than the Carolina Panthers. With a 5-2 slate in the all-time series, the Bills own a .714 winning percentage against the Panthers, the best mark Buffalo holds against any of the NFL’s other 31 teams. And when the games are played in Buffalo like this one, the news gets even better for the Bills. Buffalo is 3-1 at Ralph Wilson Stadium against the Panthers, a .750 winning slate.
Finally A Winner – Last season’s 9-3 Week 2 victory over the Bills marked the first time in franchise history that the Panthers had toppled the Bills in a regular-season meeting on their home field of Bank Of America Stadium. Previously, Carolina’s lone win in six tries against the Bills was a 13-9 verdict Nov. 27, 2005 at Buffalo. But things are looking up for the Panthers. They are 2-2 in their last four games against Buffalo after dropping the first three meetings between the two teams.
Familiar Faces – Bills head coach Sean McDermott previously served as defensive coordinator of the Panthers for six seasons from 2011-16. Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane was assistant GM of the Panthers from 2015-16 and previously served as Carolina’s director of football operations from 2008-14. Beane had worked in some capacity for the Panthers since 1998. Bills wide receivers Kaelin Clay and Kelvin Benjamin are also ex-Panthers.
Just Joshing – Buffalo fans figure to get their first look at 2018 first round draft pick Josh Allen under center. Selected seventh overall out of Wyoming, Allen is 6-5 and looks to have all the physical tools to be a star quarterback. But with five of their first seven regular-season games on the road, the Bills may not be anxious to throw Allen to the wolves and could opt to handing the starting role at least at the beginning of the season to veteran A.J. McCarron. This will be the first step in their competition for the position.
Linebacker Issues – The season hasn’t even started and there are already legitimate concerns facing the Panthers at the key position of linebacker. Carolina already knows it will be without veteran outside LB Thomas Davis, 35, for the first four games of the season due to NFL suspension issues after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Shaq Thompson, a 2015 first round draft pick, figures to fill in for Davis after playing 75 percent of all snaps last season.
Is Luke Their MLB? Panthers All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly must rebound from offseason labrum surgery on his left shoulder. He sat out all of the team’s minicamp and OTAs while recuperating from his latest stint under the knife. Kuechly underwent the same surgery on his right shoulder following Carolina’s Super Bowl 50 loss to the Denver Broncos, but insists that he will be good to go for the regular season and should be at full strength for preseason play.
Discuss Among Yourselves – There are always unique and intriguing stories that develop in an NFL training camp, as longshots seek to carve out enough of a niche for themselves to earn a spot on the 53-player roster. One such tale to watch involves Bills rookie tackle Gerhard De Beer. A South African discus thrower who won a bronze medal at the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships in Spain, De Beer also played football at Arizona while on a track scholarship and started 10 games for the Wildcats last season.
He’s A Star In (Upstate) New York – One of Buffalo’s key off-season additions was another ex-Panther, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. A native of Tonga, Lotulelei is known primarily for his ability to clog up the middle and prevent the opposition’s run game from enjoying any level of success. Considering that the Bills permitted 1,944 yards on the ground and 22 rushing touchdowns last season, what Lotulelei, the 14th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, brings to the defensive line is exactly what Buffalo requires.
Sailing The Rivera – Ron Rivera owns 12, 15, and 11-win seasons as head coach of the Panthers. But he also has sandwiched them in between seven, seven and six-win campaigns, continuing a Carolina tradition where consistency reamins a hobgoblin for the franchise. They’re up, they’re down, and a team that bounces like a rubber ball is a difficult one to risk wagering on. Looking to keep the books balanced, Rivera revamped his staff in the offseason, hiring new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators.
Super Bowl Smith – Wide receiver Torrey Smith is a new member of the Panthers, a rare veteran in the midst of a group of young skill players at receiver and running back for Carolina. Smith is fresh off a Super Bowl win with the Philadelphia Eagles, adding a second ring to the one he earned previously with the Baltimore Ravens. But how much does Smith have left to give? He caught a career-high 11 touchdown passes with the Ravens in 2014 and has snared just nine scoring aerials over the past three seasons.
Is He Cam-tastic? If offseason video and minicamp workouts mean anything, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is looking to be all the way back and 100 percent recovered from 2017 rotor cuff surgery on his throwing arm. After tossing 35 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions during his 2015 MVP season, Newton has completed 31 TD passes and been picked off 30 times over the past two seasons. At 29, are his skills in decline, or did he just need a year to completely recover from surgery?
Will Christian Rise? Running back Christian McCaffrey, Carolina’s top pick in the 2017 NFL draft, offered glimpses of his college greatness as a rookie. Though he only ran for 435 yards and two touchdowns, McCaffrey set a Panthers rookie record with 80 receptions, including five TD catches. If the former Heisman Trophy runner-up can add a ground game to his pass-catching out of the backfield, that sort of versatility could take a lot of the pressure to be the Carolina offense off Newton’s back.