For some time, the Panthers have known who they would play in 2013, but it wasn’t until April 18 that the dates, times and TV channels were released to the public.
A late-season winning streak led by second-year quarterback Cam Newton saved head coach Ron Rivera’s job, secured a 7-9 finish and second place in the NFC South and showed what this team could do. Can the Panthers use that momentum to build into the 2013 season?
Here is a look at the complete 2013 Panthers schedule with game-by-game analysis and prediction.
Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 8, 1 p.m. ET
One of the biggest 2012 surprises was the Seattle Seahawks, led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. And all the Seahawks have done this offseason is upgrade both sides of the ball with spectacular talent.
Wilson will now have Percy Harvin on offense to complement Sidney Rice at receiver. Harvin can line up at multiple positions, whether it's on the outside, at slot receiver or in the backfield. On defense, the Seahawks added Cliff Avril, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett to the front four to an already dominant defense.
Seattle is a Super Bowl contender, while Carolina is still rebuilding to compete in the NFC South. For Carolina to defeat Seattle, it will need Newton and the running backs to force the Seahawks defense to sit back after four- and five-yard runs, setting up play action.
Though the Panthers are trending in the right direction roster-wise, there’s little chance they will be able to compete with the juggernaut Pete Carroll is building in Seattle.
SCORE PREDICTION: Seattle 27, Carolina 17
Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 15, 1 p.m. ET
Either way, the quarterback position isn’t set in Buffalo, which plays into Carolina’s hands.
Let’s assume Kolb is the quarterback Buffalo trots out against Carolina. The Panthers should be able to apply enough pressure in passing situations, as Kolb has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long.
However, what the Panthers will need to do in order to win is to keep C.J. Spiller from getting going in the running game. Even in Buffalo’s many losses in 2012, Spiller was able to accrue yardage and make spectacular plays.
Getting Manny Lawson in free agency should help Buffalo’s defense, but the Panthers should be able to do enough on the ground to keep the Bills honest. If DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart do enough on the ground, Cam Newton will be able to hit some deep passes. Newton will need to keep an eye on safety Jairus Byrd, though the corners can be attacked.
Though conditions could be colder than what Carolina is used to in Buffalo, the Panthers will return home with a win.
SCORE PREDICTION: Carolina 24, Buffalo 10
Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 22, 1 p.m. ET
After winning a Super Bowl two seasons ago, the Giants were held out of the postseason in 2012. Look for that trend not to continue in 2013.
The Giants lost some wide receiver depth but will likely hang onto Victor Cruz for the 2013 season. Though Brandon Myers isn’t much of a blocking tight end, he’ll be utilized as a receiver often. Look for Louis Murphy to have a much better time catching passes from Eli Manning than he ever did in Oakland.
For the Panthers to win, they’ll need to get after Eli Manning and force him into erratic behavior. When Manning is pressured, he can get flustered and misfire passes. Carolina was unable to do that a season ago when the Giants beat Carolina 36-7.
The score shouldn’t be as lopsided as it was in Week 3 of the 2012 season, but the Giants should be able to trek into Bank of America Stadium and come away with a victory.
SCORE PREDICTION: New York Giants 24, Carolina 13
It's a lot earlier than the Panthers would have liked, I'm sure, but the Carolina bye week lands in Week 4 in 2013. Carolina will only have played three games prior to the break, but two are tough games against Seattle and the New York Giants.
Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 6, 4:05 p.m. ET
The Cardinals’ quarterback situation was dreadful a season ago, rotating three signal-callers that couldn’t provide much of a spark. New coach Bruce Arians was able to help land Carson Palmer this offseason, but at at 33 and clearly declining, what will he actually bring to this offense?
More importantly, the Cardinals had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in 2012. Unless the new coaching staff is able to dramatically improve what transpired last year, Palmer may get knocked to the turf as much as the three quarterbacks Arizona played a season ago.
Though Carolina has to travel west, the matchup looks to be in the Panthers’ favor. Though the Arizona defense was solid to start the season, it faltered down the stretch. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to a 58-0 victory against a Cardinals defense that didn’t have an answer for the dual-threat rookie quarterback.
Cam Newton should be able to keep the Cardinals’ defense off balance and will the Panthers to a road win.
SCORE PREDICTION: Carolina 30, Arizona 23
Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET
The Vikings were able to win four games in a row at the end of the regular season to get into the 2012 postseason. Three of the wins came against floundering teams, with the fourth coming against divisional rival Green Bay.
Losing Percy Harvin, who was banged up throughout the 2012 season, will hurt more than the Vikings know. Sure, they were able to secure Greg Jennings, but what other receiving threat is there for Christian Ponder to throw the ball to?
The climate will be controlled in a dome setting, which will work in Cam Newton’s favor. With no weather elements bothering him, Newton should be able to run the offense and get his team in good situations. The Vikings showed they had problems with dual-threat quarterbacks a year ago, giving up 38 points to Washington and 30 to Seattle.
The Panthers will be able to defeat Minnesota with the ground game. Look for Newton to have a big day rushing the football on his own.
SCORE PREDICTION: Carolina 26, Minnesota 21
Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 20, 1 p.m. ET
Even with Steven Jackson leaving for Atlanta, the Rams have a chance to be one of the most improved teams in the NFL. Jeff Fisher can flat-out coach, and Sam Bradford has enough talent to get his teammates involved as he enters his fourth season. Helping Bradford will be Jake Long at left tackle, acquired in free agency this offseason.
But where the Rams will be the toughest is on defense. Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn are a tough defensive front to go against, not to mention James Laurinaitis behind them at linebacker.
Though this game is at home, it’s a bad matchup for the Panthers. Cam Newton won’t have the running space he needs or the time to move through his progressions. St. Louis will be able to pressure the Panthers and force Newton into some bad decisions and come away with a win in Carolina.
SCORE PREDICTION: St. Louis 23, Carolina 14
Date/Time: Thursday, Oct. 24, 8:25 p.m. ET
Network: NFL Network
Tampa Bay had a brief disconnect between players and coaches during the 2012 season that led to it faltering down the stretch. If Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers can get on the same page for the 2013 campaign, they’ll be dangerous each week.
The Buccaneers added Kevin Ogletree and Steve Smith (not the Panthers' Steve Smith) to an already more than formidable receiving group. Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron will give Atlanta a run for the best safety combo in the NFC South.
But when it comes down to divisional games, no one knows each other quite like divisional foes. Carolina lost games to Tampa by six points each a season ago, with one going into overtime. You can bet that the Panthers will want to exact some revenge and do their best to sweep the Bucs this time around.
The Panthers have improved enough at receiver and could still add some key pieces throughout the remainder of the offseason. With home-field advantage at Bank of America Stadium, look for Carolina to win at home against the Bucs.
SCORE PREDICTION: Carolina 23, Tampa Bay 16
Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 3, 1 p.m. ET
The Falcons should be the best team in the NFC South once again, though the Panthers appear to have an improved squad for the 2013 season.
In addition, the Panthers typically play the Falcons better at home. The Falcons defense has had issues with Cam Newton as a dual-threat quarterback the past two seasons. It also lost Brent Grimes to free agency and released Dunta Robinson.
Newton, who figures to come more into his own in his third NFL season, should have some of the same success against the Falcons. With Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon added to the receiving corps, Newton will have more speedy options to spread Atlanta’s secondary out with.
However, stopping Atlanta’s offense is another story. Matt Ryan is turning into a bona fide elite quarterback with two dynamic receivers to throw the ball to. Adding running back Stephen Jackson to the mix spells trouble for the Panthers.
SCORE PREDICTION: Atlanta 34, Carolina 28
Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 10, 4:05 p.m. ET
Getting a non-divisional Super Bowl favorite on the schedule is one thing. Having to play this kind of team on the road is adding insult to injury.
The 49ers look to be stacked once again in hopes of returning to the NFL’s championship game. Colin Kaepernick is extremely accurate passing the football, which can go overlooked since he’s also electric as a runner.
The good news for Carolina is that it faces this kind of offense in practice each week. Cam Newton can throw the ball downfield or take off and run. The Panthers’ defense should be disciplined enough to keep the 49ers from breaking the game open.
However, there’s too much strength on San Francisco’s defense for Carolina to get into a scoring match with the Niners. Newton will help keep the chains moving at times. But it won’t be enough to steal a win on the road in San Francisco.
SCORE PREDICTION: San Francisco 27, Carolina 16
Date/Time: Monday, Nov. 18, 8:40 p.m. ET
If there was ever a year for a team like the Panthers to take down the New England Patriots, this would be it. Wes Welker is gone. Sure, the secondary added Adrian Wilson, but it still isn’t an intimidating unit.
Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will have their hands full with a front seven that includes Brandon Spikes, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork, though.
That said, this will be one of the NFL’s biggest upsets. New England is ripe for a down year with the turnover it experienced on offense. Tom Brady will need to build chemistry with both Danny Amendola and Michael Jenkins, with Stevan Ridley continuing to emerge as a dependable running back.
Yes, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are two of the top three tight ends in the NFL. But if you don’t have any help on the outside at receiver, you’re in trouble.
Will any combination of Amendola, Justin Edelman or Michael Jenkins replace what Welker has been able to do over the years? That remains to be seen.
SCORE PREDICTION: Carolina 28, New England 27
Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 24, 1 p.m. ET
The Panthers would have preferred to see the Dolphins in 2012 as opposed to 2013. Miami has made plenty of free-agent moves that have bolstered the team’s expectations, even with it losing Jake Long to St. Louis.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished strong down the stretch a season ago and now has Mike Wallace as a deep threat in this offense.
Brian Hartline proved he can be counted on at times, and adding Brandon Gibson to the receiving corps only boosts the unit’s speed and playmaking ability. This should help running back Daniel Thomas, which Carolina will need to stop from getting going early.
This will be a tough game for Carolina’s rushing attack to get going as newly added linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler should be able to better help Miami stop the run this year. Cornerback Brent Grimes is a familiar foe for Carolina, and if he stays healthy in 2013, he’ll make things difficult for all of Miami’s opponents.
Miami’s balance on both sides of the ball will be too much for Carolina in the end. The Panthers should be able to keep it close with Cam Newton making some plays on the ground.
SCORE PREDICTION: Miami 24, Carolina 20
Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Greg Schiano’s coaching philosophy is to establish the run in order to step up play action, much like it was when he coaching in the college ranks at Rutgers.
Especially at home, look for the Buccaneers to ride Doug Martin most of the season to set up the deep ball from Josh Freeman to a talented group of receivers. The Panthers will first and foremost need to stop Martin from rolling like he did a year ago, when he ran for 138 yards in a 27-21 home overtime win inside Bank of America Stadium.
The Bucs were 3-5 at home a season ago and should be able to approve on its home record in 2013. That includes defeating a tough Carolina squad that will have a solid offensive output at Raymond James Stadium.
Freeman will lead the Buccaneers down the field for a late field goal that will give the Bucs a hard-fought win over the Panthers in front of the home fans.
SCORE PREDICTION: Tampa Bay 23, Carolina 21
Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 8, 1 p.m. ET
The Saints are famously tough inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome, and that won’t change, especially with Sean Payton back on the sideline.
After a 7-9 season in 2012, the Saints will be back competing for the NFC South title. There should be a chip on the Saints’ collective shoulder, with the Superdome being a tough place for an opponent to win a football game in 2013.
Carolina will need to add a top-notch corner to slow the Saints down at home, whether it's through the draft or free agency. With the way the roster is built now, the Panthers will not have anyone good enough to check the Saints on the road in that hostile environment.
The Saints are one of the few teams that don’t need a running attack to be successful. So even though the Saints are a pass-happy bunch that doesn’t favor balance, the Panthers should be on their heels all game. Look for Darren Sproles to have a big game in space against the Panthers in New Orleans.
SCORE PREDICTION: New Orleans 41, Carolina 20
Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 15, 4:05 p.m. ET
Due to Rex Ryan’s early arrogance in New York, the Jets have become a team that’s deserved all the scrutiny it's been under in recent years. It’s a make-or-break year for New York’s coaching staff, much like it might be in Carolina.
However, the Panthers have made enough moves this offseason that indicate they could finally get over the hump and win some close games. The Jets, conversely, added an aged David Garrard to compete with Mark Sanchez for the starting quarterback spot.
In addition, the Jets lost Shonn Greene to free agency and don’t have a proven running back to ground and pound, as Ryan like to put it. The Panthers should do enough to place pressure on Sanchez (or Garrard) with a front four that has plenty of potential.
Look for the Panthers to win this contest on the ground, with a steady diet of Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
SCORE PREDICTION: Carolina 27, New York Jets 20
Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 22, 1 p.m. ET
With Sean Payton back as New Orleans’ head coach, the Saints figure to return to postseason football form.
You can’t hold Drew Brees down for too long, and so it should be expected that a comeback season is in order for this Saints franchise damaged by the Bountygate scandal a year ago.
Brees will have the same weapons he did a year ago in Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham, with Lance Moore able to provide big plays at any moment. Though New Orleans should put up plenty of points, the Saints need to improve on defense. Carolina put up 35 and 44 points against New Orleans a season ago, and with an improved offense, it could be expected the Panthers have similar offensive outputs this time around.
The Panthers will be a much-improved unit and will upend the Saints at home in 2013.
SCORE PREDICTION: Carolina 31, New Orleans 27
Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 29, 1 p.m. ET
Winning in the Georgia Dome is never easy and won’t be in 2013. The Falcons are loaded offensively, and most defenses around the NFL will notice trouble is ahead once the season begins.
The Panthers will need to take the noisy Atlanta crowd out early with Cam Newton and the offense dictating tempo.
To acquire a running back like Steven Jackson, the Falcons had to let go key personnel members on defense, such as John Abraham and Dunta Robinson. However, Atlanta did add Osi Umenyiora, who should at least provide equal production to what the Falcons got out of Abraham over the years.
Though the Panthers are improving, they’ll fall short on the road in Atlanta. The Falcons have too much firepower on offense for the Panthers to defend.
The only way the Panthers keep this one close is by moving the chains on the ground. Even then, if the Falcons' red-zone defense can hold Carolina to field-goal attempts, Atlanta will run away with the game by reaching pay dirt time and time again.
SCORE PREDICTION: Atlanta 35, Carolina 17