The Carolina Panthers got their first look at the 2012 NFL schedule this week, and I predict that Cam Newton, Steve Smith and company will prove the Carolina Panthers are a playoff-caliber team in the first four weeks of the season.
The Carolina Panthers play each of their NFC South rivals and the New York Giants in their first four games, so a successful September will go a long away in setting the season's tone and establishing the Panthers as a player in the NFC.
Carolina's schedule is highlighted by road trips to each of head coach Ron Rivera's former teams, the Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, and a home date with Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos.
In addition to playing the usual home-and-away series against their NFC South rivals, the Panthers will also play each team from the AFC West and the NFC East as part of their non-division schedule.
The Panthers have the NFL's 10th-hardest strength-of-schedule, and there are plenty of potential pitfalls along the way.
However, with Cam Newton's improvement and the core of its high-scoring offense returning for another season together, along with an improved defense and special teams in 2012, the Panthers have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
Read on for my predictions for each game on the Carolina Panthers' 2012 NFL schedule.