2014 Carolina Panthers Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterApril 24, 2014

2014 Carolina Panthers Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

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    Chuck Burton

    Something strange happened during the offseason between 2012 and 2013 to the Carolina Panthers.

    After finishing the 2012 campaign with the 10th-ranked defense in the NFL and finishing with a 7-9 record, the Panthers assembled a secondary piecemeal and drafted two top-notch defensive tackles to help stop the run.

    The result was one of the best defenses in the league in 2013, and a division championship followed.

    Carolina moved from 7-9 to 12-4 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Heck, the Panthers enjoyed their first winning record since 2008 and made it above .500 for the first time in five seasons in Week 8.

    Head coach Ron Rivera went from the hot seat to the catbird seat.

    The offseason between 2013 and 2014 hasn’t gone as well, at least it doesn’t appear it has.

    Carolina’s entire wide receiver corps is elsewhere, quarterback Cam Newton required offseason ankle surgery (he’s expected to be ready for training camp) and the offensive line is in shambles after offensive tackle Jordan Gross and a host of others retired.

    Will the 2014 season look more like 7-9 or 12-4?

    Here is a look at the complete 2014 Panthers schedule with game-by-game analysis and predictions.

Week 1: Panthers at Buccaneers

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    Mike McCarn

    Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 7, 4:25 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    With the addition of free agents Michael Johnson at defensive end, Clinton McDonald at defensive tackle and Alterraun Verner at cornerback, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is going to look much better than it did a year ago.

    This will cause problems for quarterback Cam Newton and a Carolina Panthers offense that lost a lot of talent from 2013.

    It was always the defense for Carolina that drove its success, but Newton had enough weapons and protection to deliver points when needed. That might not be the case this season.

    The Panthers have never had too much trouble scoring points in Tampa. But this will not only be a down year for Carolina, the Bucs are also about to enter a period of resurgence. With a new coaching staff, philosophy and some new personnel, the Bucs can win this game.

    Score Prediction: Tampa Bay 16, Carolina 14

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 8: Carolina 31, Tampa Bay 13 (Raymond James Stadium)

    Week 13: Carolina 27, Tampa Bay 6 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 2: Lions at Panthers

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    Paul Sancya

    Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 14, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    Here’s what we know about the Detroit Lions: They can pile on the yardage through the air.

    At 280.1 passing yards per game last season, only two teams could brag that they were better than Detroit. On the flip side of that coin, Carolina ranked sixth in the league at stopping the pass.

    Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson may have their hands full with this treacherous Panthers defense.

    The Lions were good against the run last season (sixth in the league—99.8 yards per game) and 23rd versus the pass (246.9 rushing yards per game). Newton is going to have to develop a new relationship with a totally brand new receiving corps to have any shot in Detroit.

    The last time Carolina was in Detroit, the teams put 84 combined points on the scoreboard. That won’t happen again. And it should be Carolina’s defense that keeps enough points from scoring to win this game.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 23, Detroit 20

    Last Meetings:

    Nov. 16, 2008: Carolina 31, Detroit 22 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Nov. 20, 2011: Detroit 49, Carolina 35 (Ford Field)

Week 3: Steelers at Panthers

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 21, 8:30 p.m. ET

    Network: NBC

    The Carolina Panthers haven’t beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1996. The two have only played four times since, but a losing streak is a losing streak.

    Not only have the Panthers been bad against the Steelers, over their last two games they’ve been downright horrid. Pittsburgh beat Carolina 37-3 in 2006 and then 27-3 in 2010. The Panthers are going to have to muster some offense this time around to bring about a different result than usual.

    That could be a problem.

    Carolina’s offensive line is kind of like Swiss cheese after retirement became the popular thing to do in the offseason. Newton will be looking at a completely different wide receiver corps this year as Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon have all left via free agency, and Steve Smith was released.

    Carolina’s defense should keep the Panthers in this game, but don’t expect a win here.

    Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Carolina 23

    Last Meetings:

    Dec. 17, 2006: Pittsburgh 37, Carolina 3 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Dec. 23, 2010: Pittsburgh 27, Carolina 3 (Heinz Field)

Week 4: Panthers at Ravens

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 28, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    When the Baltimore Ravens host the Panthers, it might just be a run-of-the-mill Sunday game. Had this game been at home, it would have been the most electric non-divisional atmosphere in Bank of America Stadium of the year. Heck, it would have been the most electric atmosphere period.

    Long-time Panthers hero Steve Smith was released in the offseason and signed with the Ravens. He was upset at the way he was treated and went on WFNZ in Charlotte and promised a show if he got to come back to play the Panthers.

    I want to make sure that whatever team I go to, they’re going to get the best, in shape 35-year-old guy they can get. If that happens to run through Bank of America Stadium, put your goggles on cause there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.

    Smith has since backed off his anger a bit, and says he loves the city of Charlotte and his time with the Panthers. But when he plays this game, he’ll work harder and smarter than he’s worked in years to beat a team. He has the heart to get it done, but the Ravens don’t have the manpower to best the Panthers.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 17, Baltimore 13

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 15, 2006: Carolina 23, Baltimore 21 (M&T Bank Stadium)

    Nov. 21, 2010: Baltimore 37, Carolina 13 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 5: Bears at Panthers

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    Bob Leverone

    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 5, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    The Carolina Panthers have traveled to Soldier Field in Chicago to face the Bears in two of the last three seasons. They’ve come away with a loss each time.

    The loss in 2012 was excruciating because of the way it happened. The Panthers kicked a field goal with 2:27 to play to go ahead by two points. Then Jay Cutler basically used the same play over and over again to drive down the field for a win.

    The Bears can sure score points, but they allow a ton, too. Chicago ranked second in points per game and next to last in points allowed. We’ll have to see if Carolina’s defense is strong enough to slow the Bears down, or if the Panthers offense can take advantage of an improved, yet weak defense.

    This game, however, will be at home for the Panthers. But with the free-agent moves the Bears have made, it’s probably a good bet to go with the visiting team.

    Score Prediction: Chicago 27, Carolina 21

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 2, 2011: Chicago 34, Carolina 29 (Soldier Field)

    Oct. 28, 2012: Chicago 23, Carolina 22 (Soldier Field)

Week 6: Panthers at Bengals

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 12, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    When the Panthers visit the Cincinnati Bengals, the game will be very much like their game against the Seattle Seahawks. Where the Seahawks-Panthers game will be a meeting of No. 1 versus No. 2 in regard to team defense, the Panthers-Bengals game will be No. 2 versus No. 3.

    Expect points to come at a premium.

    Carolina only allowed 15.1 points per game and had the sixth-ranked passing defense and the second-ranked run defense a year ago. Cincinnati allowed 19.1 points per game and owned the fifth-ranked pass defense and the fifth-ranked run defense.

    This is going to be a game where DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert have to step up. It would be nice if Newton could do some damage with his legs, too.

    The Bengals lost some talent in free agency, just like the Panthers did. But Cincinnati also lost both coordinators to head coach positions and will have some growing pains there.

    The Panthers should win this close contest.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 17, Cincinnati 16

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 22, 2006: Cincinnati 17, Carolina 14 (Paul Brown Stadium)

    Sept. 26, 2010: Cincinnati 20, Carolina 7 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 7: Panthers at Packers

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 19, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    There’s always been a question around the NFL about which is better: Would you rather have a top-notch defense or a score-at-will offense?

    The Seattle Seahawks answered the question temporarily with their Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos, but don’t count out great offenses just yet.

    The Green Bay Packers will offer an elite offense when they host the Panthers, and one of the four elite passers in the NFL. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers should be slowed by the Panthers front seven, but he’ll find a way to put points on the board.

    Green Bay finished eighth in the league in scoring last year but played without Rodgers for seven games. The Packers are typically a top-five offense, and should be again when they face the Panthers.

    The Packers may be the most prolific offense the Panthers see, and they won’t have enough gas in the tank to keep up with Rodgers and company.

    Score Prediction: Green Bay 24, Carolina 17

    Last Meetings:

    Nov. 30, 2008: Carolina 35, Green Bay 31 (Lambeau Field)

    Sept. 18, 2011: Green Bay 30, Carolina 23 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 8: Seahawks at Panthers

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 26, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    To football fans that love defense, the matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers has the capability to thoroughly impress.

    The Panthers lost to the Seahawks in Week 1 last season, 12-7. But had DeAngelo Williams not fumbled on the Seattle 10-yard line with 5:25 to play, the outcome could have been different. The score, however, foreshadowed a lot of great defense to come from these two teams.

    Seattle finished the 2013 season with a league-best 14.4 points per game allowed. Carolina was No. 2 with 15.1 points per game allowed on defense.

    The game might not be as low scoring this season.

    While Seattle finished the season eighth in the NFL in scoring average, Carolina was 18th. And the Panthers might not be nearly as good on offense this season.

    A weakened offense against the best defense in the league doesn’t spell good things for the Panthers.  

    Score Prediction: Seattle 23, Carolina 10

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 7, 2012: Seattle 16, Carolina 12 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Sept. 8, 2013: Seattle 12, Carolina 7 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 9: Saints at Panthers

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    Bob Leverone

    Date/Time: Thursday, Oct. 30, 8:25 p.m. ET

    Network: NFL Network

    When the Panthers hosted the New Orleans Saints in Bank of America Stadium, the game was much different than when the Panthers traveled to New Orleans to play in the hostile Superdome.

    The Panthers held the Saints to just 13 points and wide receiver Domenik Hixon caught a 14-yard pass from Cam Newton with 23 seconds to play to secure the win.

    Rain played a part, but mostly the Panthers defense kept pounding.

    The home version of this New Orleans-Carolina rivalry should go better than the away version in 2014, but the Saints, who have the look of a potential Super Bowl team, have too much this season for Carolina to stop.

    Carolina isn’t going to be the same team it was in 2013. Expect a dropoff, and expect the Saints to run away with the division.

    Score Prediction: New Orleans 20, Carolina 17

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 14: New Orleans 31, Carolina 13 (Superdome)

    Week 16: Carolina 17, New Orleans 13 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 10: Panthers at Eagles

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Monday, Nov. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET

    Network: ESPN

    Both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Carolina Panthers said goodbye to their No. 1 receivers in the offseason.

    The Panthers released Steve Smith while the Eagles did the same to DeSean Jackson. The Eagles will feel the loss more than the Panthers, but both guys will be missed.

    Eagles quarterback Nick Foles should still be able to spread the ball around to guys like Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, not to mention Brent Celek. And he’ll love, just as he did last season, having the league’s best running back, LeSean McCoy, in the backfield.

    But the Panthers defense will have something to say about the Eagles running roughshod over them. Carolina’s front seven is one of the best units in football and will pose a problem to even the high-paced Philadelphia offense.

    Another problem the Eagles will face is stopping Newton and this offense. The Panthers won’t be as prolific as they were in 2013 moving the football down the field, but that was truly a rough spot for the Eagles, who may not have improved enough on that side of the football.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 23, Philadelphia 20

    Last Meetings:

    Sept. 13, 2009: Philadelphia 38, Carolina 10 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Nov. 26, 2012: Carolina 30, Philadelphia 22 (Lincoln Financial Field)

Week 11: Falcons at Panthers

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    John Bazemore

    Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 16, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    There are two things I know and two things I think of when I compare the 2014 Carolina Panthers and the 2014 Atlanta Falcons to successful past versions of themselves.

    I know the 2014 Panthers will not be as good as the 2013 version that won 12 games. I also know the 2014 Falcons won’t be as good as the 2012 version that one 13 games.

    I think the 2014 Panthers will be better than the 7-9 2012 Panthers, and I think (I’m pretty sure about this one) the 2014 Falcons will be better than the 4-12 2013 Falcons.

    So now that we have that squared away, let’s talk about this game.

    The Panthers haven’t done themselves any favors on offense. Newton is back and so is tight end Greg Olsen, but no one can prove to me the wide receiver corps that general manager Dave Gettleman put together can successfully move the ball down the field.

    That said, Carolina’s front seven is very much still a force, and I don’t think the Falcons can score enough points on offense in Charlotte to win.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 26, Atlanta 20

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 9: Carolina 34, Atlanta 17 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Week 17: Carolina 21, Atlanta 20 (Georgia Dome)

Week 12: Bye

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    Chuck Burton

    The Carolina Panthers will play 11 games before enjoying their bye during Week 12.

Week 13: Panthers at Vikings

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 30, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    It’s possible to look at the Week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings last season as the catalyst to everything that went right in 2013 for the Carolina Panthers.

    The Panthers were 1-3 and head coach Ron Rivera was definitely on the hot seat as Carolina traveled to Minnesota. The Panthers put 35 points on the board, Newton threw three touchdown passes and the defense held the Vikings to under 200 total yards of offense.

    Not only was the win huge on the scoreboard, but it started an eight-game winning streak that turned the Panthers into the hottest team in the NFL. Carolina only lost one game after that Week 6 win in Minnesota.

    When these two meet in 2014, the score should be closer. Carolina’s defense is still stacked up front and will battle Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. And Minnesota still hasn’t solved its quarterback question mark.

    But the Panthers are in danger of falling off a bit, too, particularly on offense. They’ll get a win here, but it won’t be a 25-point trouncing.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 20, Minnesota 7

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 30, 2011: Minnesota 24, Carolina 21 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Oct. 13, 2013: Carolina 35, Minnesota 10 (Mall of America Field)

Week 14: Panthers at Saints

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    Bob Leverone

    Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 7, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    Believe it or not, since joining the league in 1995, the Panthers have a 20-18 record against the New Orleans Saints. And over their last four meetings, the Panthers are 3-1 against the Saints.

    That good fortune is going to come to an end this season.

    The Panthers and Saints played the two most important NFC South games of the season in 2013. The first, a 31-13 win by the Saints, locked the two teams at 9-4 atop the division. The second, a 17-13 win by the Panthers, gave Carolina a one-game lead in the division which they held to enter the playoffs with a first-round bye.

    When Carolina traveled to the Superdome last season, it got thumped. The Saints ended up being the only team in the league to put up 30 or more points on the Panthers. Only four other teams scored 20 or more as the Panthers finished the season holding teams to an average of 15.1 points per game.

    When it comes to 2014, the Saints might have gotten better through free agency, or at the very least didn’t get worse. The Panthers, on the other hand, were hurt badly by players leaving or retiring.

    Score Prediction: New Orleans 24, Carolina 13

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 14: New Orleans 31, Carolina 13 (Superdome)

    Week 16: Carolina 17, New Orleans 13 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 15: Buccaneers at Panthers

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    Mike McCarn

    Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 14, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    Even though it may appear that the Panthers are going to fall off from their 2013 perch, and that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are destined to get better in the new Lovie Smith era, don’t say that the Bucs are ready to come into Bank of America Stadium and push the Panthers around.

    That’s not going to happen, not by anyone.

    There’s still elite-level talent in Carolina’s front seven, and even though question marks abound with the offensive line and wide receivers, Cam Newton is still the most athletic quarterback on the planet and will get plenty done to beat the Bucs at home.

    This divisional rivalry, starting right now this season, is much closer than it was last year and should become a good series as they both grow their talent bases. But right now, Carolina is too good at home on defense to lose to this upstart Bucs team.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 26, Tampa Bay 16

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 8: Carolina 31, Tampa Bay 13 (Raymond James Stadium)

    Week 13: Carolina 27, Tampa Bay 6 (Bank of America Stadium)

Week 16: Browns at Panthers

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 21, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns have only met four times, with the Panthers taking three of those four games.

    Carolina should make it four of five this season.

    The Browns found a way to enter their Week 10 bye with a 4-5 record and finish the season 4-12. Losing seven in a row after a bye isn’t easy, especially with the Jacksonville Jaguars on that schedule. But the Browns did what the Browns do.

    Cleveland added Ben Tate to run the football and Donte Whitner to enforce a level of pain throughout the defense. While that’s going to make the Browns better, there’s still not enough to take down the Panthers.

    Carolina won’t be as good in 2014 as it was last season. Good thing the Browns haven’t closed the gap. The Panthers should put this one away pretty easily at home.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 26, Cleveland 10

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 8, 2006: Carolina 20, Cleveland 12 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Nov. 28, 2010: Cleveland 24, Carolina 23 (Cleveland Browns Stadium)

Week 17: Panthers at Falcons

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    John Bazemore

    Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 28, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    The constant competition between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, two teams separated by just 243 miles of highway, is justly called “The I-85 Rivalry.”

    It takes these two teams longer to board planes, fly and get off to drive to the other’s stadium than it would to drive from door to door. Proximity is a healthy agitator.

    But last season, with the Falcons dwindling in the division cellar, this rivalry took a back seat to the Saints-Panthers battle for the division crown.

    In 2014, neither the Panthers nor the Falcons should compete for the NFC South title, but this could be an interesting race for second place.

    The Falcons should have their full repertoire of offensive weapons (minus the retired Tony Gonzalez, which is a huge loss), meaning both Roddy White and Julio Jones should be healthy by Week 1 of the regular season.

    With that newfound health, and an upgraded offensive line, the Falcons should once again win more than they lose in the Georgia Dome.

    Score Prediction: Atlanta 20, Carolina 17

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 9: Carolina 34, Atlanta 17 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Week 17: Carolina 21, Atlanta 20 (Georgia Dome)


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