Carolina Panthers' 2017 schedule favorable for fast start against rebuilding 49ers, Bills

To return to the postseason, the Panthers need to see Cam Newton making big plays and having fun again. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has released its 2017 regular-season schedule. Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Carolina Panthers.

Breakdown: Coach Ron Rivera probably won’t like it that he’s opening on the road for the sixth time in seven years, or that the opener is where he lost Super Bowl 50. Yep, another reminder of that dreadful day at Levi's Stadium. But it’s doubtful he’ll complain about the toughness of the start of this schedule the way he did a year ago, having to go to Denver for a rematch of the title game he lost eight months earlier. That loss led to a 1-5 start, another slow beginning that has become the norm since Rivera took over in 2011. But the 2017 schedule is favorable for a 2-0 start, with a trip to San Francisco followed by the home opener against Buffalo. Both teams have a first-year head coach and both are in rebuilding mode, particularly San Francisco. If Carolina struggles in these, it could be another long season. If it doesn’t, this could be the catalyst for a fourth NFC South title in five years.

Not made for prime time: A year ago, the Panthers had a team-record five prime-time games, including the Thursday night opener at Denver. They were the hot team coming off an NFL-best 15-1 regular-season record and trip to the Super Bowl, with a star-studded lineup led by NFL MVP Cam Newton. The Panthers have only two prime-time games this season after a 6-10 meltdown in which Newton had career worsts in almost every major statistical category. That’s not a bad thing if you’re Rivera. The Carolina coach would prefer to play every game Sunday at 1 p.m. He likes routine, and this schedule, with 13 games at 1 p.m. ET, gives him plenty of that.

Road to success: Only trips to Atlanta in the season finale and New England in Week 4 could be considered tough wins. So if you count those two as losses, and the Panthers can win five or six of eight games away from Bank of America Stadium, their playoff chances go way up. Even 4-4 might do it as well, as the Panthers typically play well at home. You can almost guarantee three victories with trips to San Francisco, the New York Jets and Chicago, which combined for 10 wins last season and are in rebuilding modes. The road was Carolina’s demise a year ago: It went 2-6, with four of those coming by three points or less.

Strength of schedule: 16th, .504

Panthers regular-season schedule (All times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, Buffalo, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, New Orleans, 1 p.m.

  • Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, at New England, 1 p.m.

  • Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, at Detroit, 1 p.m.

  • Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 12, Philadelphia, 8:25 p.m.

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, at Chicago, 1 p.m.

  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 10: Monday, Nov. 13, Miami, 8 p.m.

  • Week 11: BYE

  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.

  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, Minnesota, 1 p.m.

  • Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, Green Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.