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