The 2014 schedule for the Carolina Panthers has yet to be released. However, their opponents have been decided and it is worth taking a look at which games could be featured in prime time. This past season, the Panthers fared well in front of a national audience as they appeared on Sunday, Monday and Thursday night football. They finished with a record of 2-1 during the regular season when playing at night.
Some of their opponents for next year could prompt league schedulers to put Carolina in a prime time slot with another notable team that should be trending in 2014.
As it stands, the Panthers will play six games against division rivals, four against the NFC North, four against the AFC North and a game each against the NFC West and NFC East champion. Carolina's opponents have more than enough great teams that would make for an interesting night game.
Last year, the Panthers and Seahawks opened their respective seasons against each other. The matchup was a good one and it could have gone either way. However, this game was played before the start of the Riverboat Ron era and Carolina fell 12-7 to the team who would go on to win the Super Bowl.
David Newton, the Carolina Panthers' beat writer at ESPN, feels the two teams are worthy of a rematch on either Sunday or Monday night based on their 2013 seasons.
He could have a point.
The Seahawks and Panthers are two popular teams with young, exciting quarterbacks and crushing defenses. Both teams should be in the playoff discussion prior to the season beginning and what a way to kick off the year with a game between two teams who could meet again in the playoffs. Seattle and Carolina may not open the season against each other, but the pairing has a strong case to be a candidate for prime time.
Last year, the Panthers faced off against the Saints in a Sunday night game that was flexed because of the great season each team was having. Carolina came up on the wrong end of a lopsided score, but redeemed itself two weeks later with a huge victory over New Orleans at Bank of America Stadium. In light of the season split and how physical these teams can be with each other, a game between the Panthers and Saints on national television could draw a strong level of interest.
New Orleans was dominant at home in 2013 and Carolina proved capable of defending their turf despite dropping their opener to Seattle in the season's first week. Each team defeated the other when they were at home, resulting in the only black mark on their division records.
A prime time game between these two rivals seems likely, but if they each carry over last year's success into 2014, they could see a split in which one game is played at night while the other is designated the Game of the Week in the 4 PM slot on Fox.
The Eagles emerged as a surprise team under first-year head coach Chip Kelly. Their success was unprecedented as they switched quarterbacks and saw Jeremy Maclin go down with an early injury. However, they did enough to win the NFC East and claim a playoff spot in where they would lose in the first round against New Orleans.
A matchup between Philadelphia and Carolina on prime time would be interesting as it would feature an up-tempo offense pitted against a suffocating defense. Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles is another young and talented player who could put up bigger numbers in 2014 if he starts all 16 games.
If these two teams play early in the season, the game might be on Thursday night. Since the game will be played at Philadelphia, the crowd atmosphere should be electric regardless of when the two teams meet.
This would be the first official meeting between Cam Newton and Andy Dalton (the Panthers played the Bengals in the 2011 preseason). Both quarterbacks were taken in the 2011 draft and each has been partly responsible for their respective teams' turnaround. Last season, both clubs won their division and were bounced after one game.
A game between Carolina and Cincinnati would make an ideal NFC/AFC clash, although it may not have the luster that was there for the Monday night game between Carolina and New England last year. Speaking of the Patriots, New England lost to both teams when it traveled to Cincinnati and Charlotte last season. Both games were close, but Carolina came away victorious after a controversy.
The game between these two should be a good one and if they are in contention late in the season, the game will have an extra level of competitiveness. It should be interesting to see how well the Carolina secondary can stop AJ Green as the unit will be looking at an upgrade this offseason and Green being one of best receivers in the league today.
While these games have yet to be determined, each has its own level of interest. Carolina could see some late season games flexed into the prime time slot on Sunday night if they are contenders in 2014. They could also lose a Sunday night game if they aren't contenders moving into the latter part of next season.
Regardless of the time slot they are given, the ultimate goal should be to continue on the current path of success and return to the playoffs and eventually reach the Super Bowl.
It doesn't matter when the Carolina Panthers play because you can follow me all year long.