Breakdown: The Panthers haven’t played a prime-time game since playing Pittsburgh in a dismal 2010 season. But the days of flying under the radar are over. The Panthers will appear in two nationally televised games this season, and they’re both good ones. They’ll host the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in a Thursday night game Sept. 20, and they’ll play a Monday night game at Philadelphia on Nov. 26.
That can be traced to the star power that comes with second-year quarterback Cam Newton. Pitting him against Eli Manning and Michael Vick should attract lots of attention. We already know Newton and the Carolina offense are good. If the Panthers can just play a little defense, that Philadelphia game and the December contests could be very meaningful.
The NFL is giving the Panthers a good opportunity to get off to a fast start. Four of their first six games will be played at Bank of America Stadium.
Complaint department: The Panthers open their season with two NFC South opponents -- on the road at Tampa Bay and at home with New Orleans. They also have a Sept. 30 game at Atlanta, meaning three of their first four games will be against divisional opponents. I don’t mind seeing a divisional game in the first month of the season. But three in the first four weeks? Seems a little excessive. But, hey, at least we’ll find out pretty quickly whether the Panthers have any chance to win the NFC South.
Fox’s return: The Nov. 11 game against Denver has lots of storylines. Peyton Manning will be coming to town, and the matchup between him and Newton is a good one. But there’s one thing that could overshadow even Manning and Newton that week. That’s the return of Denver coach John Fox. He was the best coach in Carolina history, but his tenure didn’t end well. That will give Fox motivation to have the Broncos ready, and the Panthers will have plenty to motivate them because Fox didn’t part on the best of terms with everyone in the building, including some people in very high places.
Panthers Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Tampa Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 20, N.Y. Giants, 8:20 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Denver, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 26, at Philadelphia, 8:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at San Diego, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Oakland, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM