Miami Dolphins (-1, 39 o/u) at Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers have a new goal for the rest of the preseason: find a way to replace the production of second-year receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury on Wednesday. The Panthers will start their post-Benjamin life on Saturday when they host the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium (7:00 PM Eastern).
Benjamin had 73 catches, 1,008 yards, and nine touchdowns in a superb rookie season. He found instant chemistry with QB Cam Newton and emerged as the team’s top wideout almost instantly.
Head coach Ron Rivera spoke about the injury in a post-practice press conference: “He went to plant and make a swim move and without any contact just kind of went down, so it was unfortunate. It’s one of those things that could have happened in any drill. It’s unfortunate it happened then.”
Rivera went on to note that, “[o]ther guys are going to have to step up,” mentioning Brenton Bersin and Jarrett Boykin by name.
On paper, the loss of Benjamin is something the Panther offense can’t afford. The team was just 19th in the league in passing last year, their first season in ages without veteran wideout Steve Smith. Newton will still have stud TE Greg Olsen to rely on, but the team now lacks a true number one target on the outside. (Sorry, Jerricho Cotchery.)
The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, will come into Saturday’s game confident, despite falling 27-10 to the Bears in Week 1 of the preseason. The Fins saw the first team offense put up impressive numbers, with starting QB Ryan Tannehill going 6-7 for 56 yards and a major.
The backups were an entirely different story; second and third-string QBs Josh Freeman and McLeod Bethel-Thompson could only manage one more field goal the rest of the way, despite facing a Chicago defense that was shredded for over 377 YPG last season (30th in the league).
Star defensive end Cameron Wake had some thinly veiled words for the offensive reserves. “I don’t want to start panicking now, because it is quite early, but that’s the way the league is … You have to play a full 60 minutes, no matter who’s out there. Their threes vs. our threes, that’s just the reality of the business.”
Betting-wise, Joe Philbin is 5-9 in preseason games since becoming the Dolphins head coach, while Ron Rivera is 9-8 with the Panthers. Given how bad the Miami backups looked in Week 1, taking the Panthers as a slight home underdog looks like the play, especially with the entire receiving corps looking to prove their worth in the absence of Benjamin.
Pick: Panthers (+1).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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