As the lockout of players looms like a dark cloud over the league, one small sliver of normalcy has emerged from the offices of the NFL. The 2011 preseason schedule was announced on Tuesday and, assuming there is football next season (which is still far from certain at this point), the Carolina Panthers have learned who their four opponents will be as they gear up to start the season.
New head coach Ron Rivera will get to kick off his first head coaching gig inside the walls of his new home at Bank of America Stadium when the Panthers take on the New York Giants to start the preseason.
Rivera will then lead the Panthers into two straight road games as they travel to Miami and Cincinnati to face the Dolphins and Bengals in weeks two and three before coming home to close out the preseason to play what has become an annual game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Of course, all of this hinges on a deal being reached in the collective bargaining agreement in time for the normal gamut of offseason festivities, presumably including some sort of training camp to take place.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has already said that there will not be replacement players used in the event the two sides cannot come to an agreement.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson ordered the NFL and the NFL Players Association to meet in court-supervised mediation that will begin on Thursday in hopes of speeding up the pace of the bargaining process.