Carolina Panthers: Analyzing the 2012 NFL Schedule

Zayne Grantham@ZPGSportsContributor IIIJanuary 4, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01:   Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers talks to his team in the huddle while playing the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers' 2012 schedule was released earlier this week, and now is a better time than ever to look ahead to the future for the Panthers.

Carolina finished at 6-10 in 2011, which is a big improvement from last year. Rookie quarterback sensation Cam Newton was better than anyone believed possible, and first-year head coach Ron Rivera did well with his new team.

The Panthers have the potential to be very good in 2012, and they have a schedule that may benefit their hopes in reaching the playoffs next year.

As always, the schedule contains both a home and away game against division opponents Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Every year the NFC South is one of the best divisions, and I expect nothing different in 2012.

The South has two teams, the Saints and Falcons, currently playing in the playoffs trying to reach the Super Bowl, and another that finished at 4-12, but can definitely improve greatly in the offseason.

Games against division opponents are always more difficult than other games, no matter if they are played on the road or at home, and 2012 will be no different.

The Panthers are talented enough to split games between New Orleans and Atlanta, and sweep Tampa Bay, which would land Carolina at a 4-2 record after division play.

The Panthers will also play Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Kansas City and San Diego on the road next season. I am very high on the Panthers and believe that they will be a great team in 2012. For that reason, I believe that Carolina can finish their away schedule around 4-1, minus division opponents.

The Panthers should be able to handle the Redskins, Bears and Chiefs with relative ease next year and split the games between the Chargers and Eagles. While they could just as easily go 3-2 or 5-0 against these opponents, I see them in that 4-1 area.

That would place the Panthers at a 8-3 record after division games and away games.

The home schedule for the Panthers consists of the Cowboys, Giants, Seahawks, Broncos and Raiders. The Panthers will be able to take care of Seattle, Denver and Oakland. However, I can see them splitting the games with Dallas and New York. This would put the Panthers at a 4-1 record at home as well, which would place Carolina's overall record at 12-4 in 2012.

This would be the best case scenario for the Panthers in 2012. As I said before, I am very high on Carolina next season, and I believe that they will challenge the top teams in the NFC next year. That is based on the Panthers filling a couple key spots in the offseason and growing close together in Rivera's system.

At worst, I see the Panthers around 9-7. In 2012, I would definitely expect a wining season from the Panthers, and possibly their first playoff appearance with Newton and Rivera at the helm.