Game-by-game predictions: Carolina Panthers

Continuity is the key phrase at Carolina. The Carolina Panthers return 10 of 11 starters from a defense that finished 10th in the NFL and nine of 11 starters from an offense that helped win five of the final six games in 2014. That continuity, along with a weak division and overall schedule ranked 27th in the league, should make Carolina 10-6 and the NFC South champion for the third straight year.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.

These teams came into the league together in 1995, but the Jaguars are still playing like an expansion team. Carolina simply is too strong on defense for this to be a game without making mistakes. Panthers 24, Jaguars 9. Record: 1-0.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, Houston, 1 p.m.

There's really no reason to pick the Houston Texans to win on the road -- or maybe anywhere -- as long as Brian Hoyer is the quarterback. There's no reason to think Houston will be able to run against Carolina's front seven, either. Panthers 30, Texans 13. Record: 2-0.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, New Orleans, 1 p.m.

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was a big thorn in Carolina's side, catching 56 passes for 700 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games. He's now in Seattle, and I don't see enough big weapons to beat this defense, particularly in Charlotte. Panthers 27, Saints 17. Record: 3-0.

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

The Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice last season with backup Derek Anderson at quarterback. Barring fractured ribs or another car accident, Cam Newton should be under center. Panthers 24, Bucs 12. Record: 4-0.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, Bye

This comes at a good time for a team loading up for a tough stretch.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.

These teams have had three straight regular-season games decided by five or fewer points. The Seattle Seahawks won all three in Charlotte. This will look more like the 2014 NFC divisional playoff game the Seahawks won 31-17 to bring the Panthers back to reality. Remember Jimmy Graham. Seahawks 20, Panthers 10. Record: 4-1.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.

I picked the Panthers to finish 10-6 because of continuity. The lack of continuity in Philadelphia with major turnover at quarterback and running back is why I'm picking Carolina to beat the reloading Philadelphia Eagles. Panthers 24, Eagles 20. Record: 5-1.

Week 8: Monday, Nov. 2, Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.

These teams have met just five times with the Panthers winning four. All those were before Andrew Luck became the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback, and he will be the difference here against a Carolina team that was 0-3 in prime time a year ago. Colts 21, Panthers 17. Record: 5-2.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, Green Bay, 1 p.m.

The Green Bay Packers exposed Carolina's lack of speed in the secondary last season in a 38-17 victory at Lambeau Field that wasn't as close as the score indicates. The Panthers made changes that led to a 5-1 finish, but Green Bay still has Aaron Rodgers and enough weapons to make good defenses look bad. Packers 24, Panthers 21. Record: 5-3.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

Left tackle Michael Oher faces the team that didn't think he was good enough to play left tackle in 2013, but that won't be the deciding factor. The Tennessee Titans simply will be outmanned, particularly at quarterback, too much to "Blind Side" Carolina. Panthers 28, Titans 14. Record: 6-3.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, Washington, 1 p.m.

The Washington Redskins are still a mess at quarterback, and this Carolina defense thrives on pressuring the quarterback into mistakes. Unless Robert Griffin III returns to his 2012 form, this one shouldn't be close. Panthers 30, Redskins 10. Record: 7-3.

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 26, at Dallas, 4:30 p.m.

Carolina outside linebacker Thomas Davis -- and I suspect a few offensive linemen and quarterback Cam Newton -- hoped this would be an early-season game because he knows what ex-teammate Greg Hardy of the Dallas Cowboys can do to an offense. Newton had better put on his best running shoes because Hardy will be after him like a hungry man on Thanksgiving Day. Cowboys 20, Panthers 10. Record: 7-4.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

Carolina turned its 2014 season around with a 41-10 victory in the Louisiana Superdome. They've actually won two of their last three in New Orleans, so the noise that can be deafening isn't a major factor. But Drew Brees still is. Saints 21, Panthers 14. Record: 7-5.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, Atlanta, 1 p.m.

Despite the efforts of new coach Dan Quinn, the Atlanta Falcons remain a year away from being decent on defense. The Panthers are rock solid now. Panthers 28, Falcons 13. Record: 8-5.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m.

For the first time, Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman faces the organization he helped win two Super Bowls. The New York Giants aren't a Super Bowl team, but at home they are good enough to win this one. Giants 20, Panthers 14. Record: 8-6.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.

With the playoffs on the line and Atlanta out of the running, quarterback Cam Newton will have a field day in his hometown. Panthers 30, Falcons 17. Record: 9-6.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

This will be the first time since 2009 that the Panthers have finished the regular season at home. They've won their last three regular-season finales on the road, so there's no reason to think they won't win this one against a rebuilding Buccaneers team. Panthers 23, Bucs 10. Record: 10-6.