Carolina not only has a full plate with the games against their division rivals but their non-division schedule is not much better. The Panthers have several games against teams this year that will be considered playoff contenders or favorites to reach the Super Bowl. Two of those non-divisional games will be on national television and what better way to make a statement than on the national stage?
The Panthers get their first test in Week 3 against the defending champion New York Giants. Fortunately, they will be able to play this game in the friendly confines of Bank of America Stadium. A win against the G-Men will go a long way in both sending a message to the league and establishing themselves as serious contenders within the division.
Games against the Cowboys, Bears and Broncos will follow and all three of them look to be in contention for their own division title or a playoff berth.
Dallas has had their way with the Panthers having won eight of nine against them. However, the Cowboys know that in the postseason the story is very different. Carolina needs a win here especially if they lose to the Giants in Week 3.
The Chicago Bears made the Panthers look silly on special teams last year and unless Devin Hester is injured, Carolina better find a way to improve that coverage team. This game will be especially tough because it will be played at Soldier Field. This game could potentially be a defensive chess match if both units keep the offenses in check.
Week 10 marks a homecoming of sorts when the Denver Broncos come to town. Former head coach John Fox and former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio return to Carolina in a game that initially would have featured Tim Tebow versus Cam Newton. Instead, it will be Peyton Manning vs Newton. This game should be interesting to say the least, especially since many fans blame Fox for torpedoing the team in 2010.
The last two non-divisional games of note will feature games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Eagles will take on the Panthers on Monday Night and could very well have playoff implications on the line. This game could serve as a playoff preview, too. Additionally, it could generate a lot of viewers as fans across the nation could be in for a shootout between Newton and Michael Vick. Besides the last game of the season against the Saints, this could be the most important game down the stretch.
The following week the Panthers take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. That game will feature two up and coming teams as both are young and if the Chiefs can stay healthy, could be a dominant force in both their division and conference. Much like the Eagles game, this one could be a shootout as well. This game should be a good measurement for how the Panthers respond from a meaningful prime time game in a short week.
Carolina needs to take advantage of its non-conference schedule because it will give them an advantage in overall record and even if they lose out on the division, they can still put themselves in a position for a wild card berth.