Strength of schedule: Carolina Panthers

Don't be fooled into thinking the Carolina Panthers have an easy path back to the NFC playoffs because their 2014 strength of schedule is weak.

They technically had the toughest schedule in 2013 based on what their opponents had done the previous season -- 138-116-2 for a winning percentage of .543.

Those same teams went a combined 126-129-1 (.494) this past regular season. The Panthers themselves were evidence that past seasons mean little. They went from 7-9 to 12-4 and NFC South champions.

So, when you look at the 2014 schedule that ranks 25th in the league with a combined 120-134-2 (.473) record and only six teams with a winning record, don't get too excited.

The Atlanta Falcons (4-12) surely will be better with the weapons they have on offense and everybody back from an injury-plagued season. Green Bay (8-7-1) surely will be better with quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing an entire season.

The strength of Carolina's schedule is somewhat skewed because it plays the NFC and AFC North, both coming off years in which only one team finished above .500. The Panthers can't count on those divisions being down.

That all of the home nondivision games outside of Super Bowl champion Seattle come against those divisions accounts for why only two teams with winning records in 2013 visit Bank of America Stadium this year.

Plus, nobody will be overlooking the Panthers coming off the kind of season they had.

The test for Carolina will be to duplicate its 7-1 regular-season home record because getting more than three or four road victories will be tough.

Right now, 10-6 might be a fair prediction.

As coach Ron Rivera told me, "Status quo is not going to be good enough this year ... we know that."

Here is Carolina's complete list of 2014 opponents:

Home (59-69): Atlanta (4-12), New Orleans (11-5), Tampa Bay (4-12), Chicago (8-8), Detroit (7-9), Seattle (13-3), Cleveland (4-12), Pittsburgh (8-8).

Away (61-65-2): Atlanta (4-12), New Orleans (11-5), Tampa Bay (4-12), Green Bay (8-7-1), Minnesota (5-10-1), Philadelphia (10-6), Baltimore (8-8), Cincinnati (11-5).