Carolina Panthers can be 'contenders in NFC', says former NFL quarterback Chris Simms
Chris Simms on Pro Football Talk: "The Panthers are for real... they've got a lot of young, talented guys. I think they're going to be hanging around for the next few years"; Watch Thursday Night Football - Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans - live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am, Friday
Last Updated: 24/09/21 6:08am
Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms has tipped the Carolina Panthers to be a contender for the postseason in the NFC ahead of their Thursday night meeting with the Houston Texans.
The Panthers have failed to make the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and have not won a postseason game since their run to Super Bowl 50 in the 2015 season.
But, under second-year head coach Matt Rhule, and with star running back Christian McCaffrey back from injury, a new quarterback for 2021 in former New York Jet, Sam Darnold, and boasting a young, talented defense, the Panthers have raced out to a 2-0 start to the season after handy wins over the Jets (19-14) and New Orleans Saints (26-7).
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"This is a great opportunity for everybody to get to know Carolina, an up-and-coming team in the NFL," Simms said on Pro Football Talk (weekdays, 7pm, Sky Sports NFL) ahead of Carolina's trip to Houston on Thursday.
"The Panthers are for real. I've been loving this team all through preseason; they've got a lot of young, talented guys. I think they're going to be hanging around for the next few years.
"In particular on defense, when you break down their front seven, it's a top-15 draft pick, a top-10 pick almost across the board. They've got a lot of talent and a creative scheme to go along with it.
"They physically whooped the Saints [in Week Two]. They weren't afraid to crowd the line of scrimmage, they stopped the Saints run game completely and you could tell they had a good feel for what they wanted to do in the pass game.
"The Saints could never get going. They were so thoroughly dominated.
"And Carolina, on the offensive side of the ball, they can smash you with McCaffrey, and they can then run play-action passes off those same formations.
"They've got a little bit of everything. They have versatility in their approach, on both sides of the ball.
"And when you have that, along with a lot of talented players, that's when you can be a contender in the NFC. I expect them to be in that conversation all year long."
'Texans have caught us all by surprise'
The Panthers travel to Houston on Thursday night to take on a Texans team expected to be the whipping boys of the AFC South this season, but who have started out an encouraging 1-1 on the year.
Houston first put away the Jacksonville Jaguars (37-21) at home, before slipping to a closely-fought defeat on the road to the Cleveland Browns (31-21), thanks in part to losing their starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to a hamstring injury.
Taylor will not return in time to face the Panthers, while the Texans' three-time Pro Bowl QB Deshaun Watson continues not be activated for game days as he stands accused of sexual assault by 22 women who have filed lawsuits.
It means that rookie Davis Mills - a third-round pick out of Stanford - will get his first NFL start on Thursday night. Mills completed 8 of his 18 pass attempts for 102 yards, one touchdown and one interception in relief of Taylor last Sunday.
"The Texans have kind of caught us all by surprise," Simms said. "They dominated the Jaguars in Week One, and went toe to toe in a battle with Cleveland last week.
"I won't be shocked if the Texans hang in there and this game is competitive still late in the fourth quarter.
"I really feel for Taylor. It's so unfortunate. He played awesome in Week One and started out well in Week Two, making a lot of big throws, with a lot of off-schedule plays out of the pocket.
"He couldn't be more unlucky. And it hurts their football team, as Taylor's ability to make plays is one of the best things they had going.
"Mills did some good things towards the end of the [Browns] game but when he first came in, he was an issue. He threw a bad interception.
"In the pre-draft process, there was nothing to say that this guy has a laser for an arm or is an unbelievable athlete. But what he does have is polish. He knows how to play the position.
"The Texans have got a pretty good offensive line, they'll protect him, and when you go through the players on the team, there might not be the superstars there, but there's Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay at running back, Brandin Cooks and Chris Conley at wide receiver, Andre Roberts there too.
"There is a lot to like there. I give them a fighting chance; they are going to make you earn the win, but I just feel they're playing a team that is more talented than they are in Carolina."
Watch Thursday Night Football - Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans - live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am in the early hours of Friday morning.