2018 Carolina Panthers game-by-game predictions

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NFL apparently has something against the Carolina Panthers opening at home.

Make that had.

For the first time since 2013 and the second time in Ron Rivera’s eight years as head coach, Carolina opens at Bank of America Stadium -- against the Dallas Cowboys.

Perhaps the schedule-makers finally forgot how Rivera questioned them in 2016 when the Panthers had to open at Denver, a rematch of Super Bowl 50 that was played less than eight months earlier.

Rivera felt the defending NFC champions deserved to open at home. He was critical that the league made him and his players relive their 24-10 loss to the Broncos all offseason.

So the league rewarded Rivera this year with about as high a profile opener as one could get -- against America’s Team.

With that in mind, here’s a game-by-game look at how the Panthers will fare in 2018:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET

Any time Dallas comes to town, it creates a stir. It causes a bigger stir when it’s the first game -- and a national broadcast, at that. Here’s another twist: Remember when Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator at Dallas and helped Troy Aikman become a Hall of Fame quarterback and Emmitt Smith a HOF running back? Seems like forever ago. Well, Turner, 65, still is trying to work his magic, now with Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

The Falcons have won four of five games in this series since putting an end to Carolina’s run at a perfect record with two games remaining in the 2015 season. That trend continues. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

These teams played to a 37-37 tie the last time they met, 2014 in Cincinnati. You can almost guarantee that this one won’t end deadlocked. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Bye

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, vs. New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman returns to the stadium where he helped build the Panthers into a Super Bowl runner-up in 2015 and perennial playoff contender. He’ll probably stop by one of his favorite restaurants in the Dilworth area. He still won’t tell anybody why owner Jerry Richardson fired him the week before last year’s training camp. Record: 3-1

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET

By now, the reviews for Washington cornerback Josh Norman in "Dancing With The Stars" will be fully known. His former Carolina teammates will either be ragging him or listening to his bragging. By now, the Redskins will know if Alex Smith was worth trading for to replace Kirk Cousins. Record: 4-1

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

The Eagles may have won the Super Bowl last year, but they didn’t do it by making trades like they did with Carolina prior to free agency. The Panthers got wide receiver Torrey Smith, a dependable player with good leadership skills. The Eagles got cornerback Daryl Worley, who recently was released after being arrested when police found him passed out in a car. A gun also was found. That aside, the Eagles won the Super Bowl for a reason. Record: 4-2

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

Perhaps the new Panthers owner will choose this game to retire the jersey of Steve Smith, the team’s all-time leading receiver who went to the Ravens after being released by Carolina in 2014. Smith predicted there would be “blood and guts everywhere" when he faced the Panthers that season. Yeah, he was mad. This could be love and forgiveness. Record: 5-2

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

Jameis Winston gave a pregame speech prior to a Week 9 game against New Orleans last year in which he formed his fingers into the shape of a W and pretended to eat it. When Winston couldn’t finish off the Panthers in December, allowing Carolina to clinch a playoff berth, the Panthers' team website trolled Winston with the picture of a cake shaped like a W, disappearing bite by bite. Winston won’t finish this one off, either. Record: 6-2

Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 8, at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m. ET

Rivera isn’t a big fan of Thursday night games. Now he has to face one of the best teams in the AFC on a Thursday. On the road. And the road team typically doesn’t fare well on a short week. Record: 6-3

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

These teams meet in the Motor City for the second straight year. Detroit native Devin Funchess had a big game with seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown last year as Carolina won. He was key off the field, too, tipping a couple of reporters to what he called the best wings in town. They were. Record: 7-3

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, vs. Seattle Seahawks, 1 p.m. ET

Seattle is retooling, but Russell Wilson always seems to be a thorn in Carolina’s side. These teams have faced each other seven times since Wilson entered the league in 2012, and the Seahawks have won five times. Make that six. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

You keep hearing that this is going to be the year the Buccaneers will break into the playoff picture. It hasn’t happened since 2007, and there’s no reason to think this year will be different. Record: 8-4

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

The typical December cold spell could work to Cleveland’s advantage here. But hey, this is a team that didn’t win a game in 2017. Weather doesn’t matter. Record: 9-4

Week 15: Monday, Dec. 17, vs. New Orleans Saints, 8:30 p.m. ET

Newton loves Monday Night Football. He spent part of a news conference last year before a prime-time game against Miami talking about the iconic MNF song performed by Hank Williams Jr. and how he planned to wear a cowboy hat to the game. He brought his game that Monday, throwing four touchdown passes and rushing for 95 yards to improve his MNF record to 5-1. Look for him to bring his best to this one as well. Record: 10-4

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

Newton has one of the best records in the NFL in December since he entered the league in 2011. He also has a short history of losing big December games to the Falcons, none bigger than the one in 2015 that ended Carolina’s run at a perfect record. Record: 10-5

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

For the second straight year, the Panthers will have a chance to win the division with a victory on the road. They didn’t do it at Atlanta last season and they won’t do it again in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Drew Brees got that big contract extension for a reason. Record: 10-6