NFL schedule breakdown: Panthers

The writing teams at Fox Sports South, FS Tennessee and FS
Carolinas have collaborated on an extensive package of NFL schedule
breakdowns for the 2013 season, specifically featuring the Falcons,
Panthers and Titans.

FALCONS
  |   TITANS
  |   PANTHERS

Nobody takes the bubble wrap
off a season that launches in five months like the
NFL, which captivated millions on Thursday by revealing the
official schedule grid for the 2013 campaign.

Here
are some personal takes on the Panthers’ season at hand, detailing a few
likes, dislikes and some ancillary quirks that are eminently worthy of mention.

What To
Like

1. The
Panthers avoid the notion of playing in a Buffalo snowstorm against the
Bills

There are obvious pratfalls that
can occur with warm-weather teams, like the Panthers, when confronting
icy-cold temperatures, stifling crosswinds and/or heavy snowfall in
rare instances.

So, in essence, Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Steve
Smith, Greg Olsen, among other Carolina players, can celebrate that aspect of drawing a September
roadie with the Bills.

But let’s have some
historical perspective on the matter: Of the last 15 seasons
(1998-2012), the Bills have a 14-13 September record for games at Ralph
Wilson Stadium. And in that span, Buffalo has a 14-16 mark in December
at Orchard Park (sorry, Toronto visits don’t
count).

In other words, the Bills don’t necessarily
love snow drifts or slick fields, either. To a man, the players and
coaches would likely prefer executing offensive and defensive schemes
relatively unfettered — minus the constraints/annoyances of thermal underwear,
clunky, non-traction gloves or protective face masks that cover
everything but two eyes and the bridge of one’s
nose.

From a fan perspective, Carolina residents
might be more inclined to trek to upstate New York in
September, too. Have you ever seen an ugly weather day in Buffalo during
the late summer?

Neither have I.

2.
Carolina leads the division in fewest back-to-back road
trips

In October, the Panthers will
embark on a two-city, seven-day tour of Arizona (Week 5) and Minnesota
(Week 6). On paper, neither road trip has the appearance of a hard-luck mismatch. And better yet, Carolina will be fully rested for the
dual test, coming off a Week 4 bye.

For comparison’s
sake, Tampa Bay has two back-to-back roadies (Lions/Panthers and
Rams/Saints), Atlanta has two (Cardinals/Panthers and Bills/Packers) and
New Orleans — as if the club wasn’t under enough scrutiny already
— draws an NFL-high three back-to-backs (Bears/Patriots,
Falcons/Seahawks and Rams/Panthers).

Bottom line: I
don’t expect a single Panthers player to lament the perceived difficulties of the
2013 schedule — regardless of how many Super Bowl contenders are on the
docket.

3. The Panthers’ best shot at
quarter-pole perfection comes in Quadrant No. 2 (Weeks
6-9)

NFL teams love to break 16-game
slates into four-game cycles, or quadrants. This encourages players and
coaches to narrow their focus to just four contests at a time. Simple
enough, huh?

In my mind, the smart money lies with
the Panthers hypothetically running the table in the second quadrant
(Weeks 6-9), with matchups against the Vikings (road), Rams (home),
Buccaneers (road) and Falcons (home).

Neither
Minnesota nor Tampa Bay have dominant quarterbacks (although Christian
Ponder and Josh Freeman have reasonable upsides).

In the Newton era, the
Panthers are averaging 29.3 points against the Bucs.

Regarding the Falcons, Newton has per-game averages
of 324 total yards and 2.3 touchdowns against the Panthers’ biggest
rival.

On the flip side, Carolina’s uh, best shot at going winless
likely comes in the third quadrant … but we’ll address that
later.

4. From a fantasy perspective,
the Panthers likely won’t play a single treacherous-weather game all
season

Obviously, the city of
Charlotte isn’t immune from the occasional monsoon or below-freezing day in the latter months of an NFL season. That aside, we’ll
assume Carolina escapes a proverbial Storm of the Century
in 2013.

Regarding the road trips, from an aesthetic
standpoint, you couldn’t ask for a better slate than San Francisco
(Week 10), Miami (Week 12), New Orleans (Week 14) and Atlanta (Week 17) —
with the final two roadies
indoors.

And when it comes to quality of opponent for
Weeks 13-16, the universal playoff period for fantasy leagues, the
Panthers draw the two worst pass defenses from last year (Bucs, Saints twice) three times in a four-week span. BOOM!

5. The
Falcons might be in rest-starters mode for their Week 17 clash with the
Panthers

This is a perfect example of
the time-tested NFL creed: It’s not who you play … but when
you play ’em.

Assuming the Falcons remain a
viable Super Bowl contender this season, they might have already sewn
up the NFC South title or a wild-card berth by the time the finale
with Carolina rolls around.

If that’s the case,
expect the Panthers — who could be playing for their playoff lives that
weekend — to pull out all the stops in Atlanta in pursuit of
victory.

For what it’s worth, Carolina has won seven
of its last 10 season-ending
games.

What To
Loathe

1. The
three-game gauntlet against the Falcons, 49ers and Patriots could be a
killer

A certain four-letter network
made a big deal of the Panthers’ impending slate this week, calling it
the most daunting of any NFL team in 2013 (based on last season’s
winning percentages).

But the only seemingly
implausible stretch of the actual schedule lies with
the aforementioned character-builders against Atlanta (Nov. 3), San Francisco (Nov.
10) and New England (Nov. 18).

Even with two of the
three occurring in Charlotte.

The prime-time game
against the Patriots will undoubtedly thrill a voracious Panthers fan base
that’s dying for national credibility. But that’s all fine and dandy
… until one recalls how bad Carolina looked against the New York
Giants under the bright lights last year, while also stumbling onto Tom
Brady’s career record on Monday Night Football
(13-4).

2. The NFL needs to do away with
September byes

I don’t have a long
rant here, other than saying the league should rethink its position on
Week 4 byes.

There’s really no excuse for demanding
the Packers and Panthers — or whoever draws this short straw from year
to year — play 13 straight weekends during October, November and December,
while the majority of teams operate under a balanced system, where
the bye essentially halves the season.

What To Find
Charmingly Quirky

1. Since
1995, the Seahawks have won a Week 1 game in the Eastern time zone only
twice. And both times, Seattle pulled out ugly 9-6 victories (at
Cleveland 2001, at Detroit 2006).

2. Speaking of the
mid-’90s, in the Panthers’ 17-year franchise history, they have never
played a division foe twice in a 14-day period (regular season). But
that all changes in 2013, as Carolina takes on New Orleans for weeks 14
(Dec. 8) and 16 (Dec.
22).

Off-The-Cuff
Prediction

Forget about
winning percentages from last season. At face value, this is an extremely fair test for a young Panthers team that harbors
thoughts of wild-card contention.

After all, it’s Year 3 of the
Newton era, and there’s still room for one more baby step
forward.

Record:
8-8