NFL schedule breakdown: Panthers
APR 19, 2013 3:03a ET
---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).
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.
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