Carolina Panthers 2015 Schedule: Win-Loss Predictions for Every Game
The 2015 NFL schedule is now officially out! While we knew the matchups ahead of time, there’s something special about the actual release of the schedule. Not only does it give you vital information—which will be the longest road trip, where does the bye fall and things of that nature—but it’s also just a reminder that yes, football is on its way.
The Carolina Panthers knew they would get somewhat slammed on the schedule thanks to winning the division last season. That gives them matchups against the cream of the NFC—Seattle and Green Bay—rather than getting to play, say, the struggling Chicago Bears or St. Louis Rams. It’s part of the penalty for winning your division.
Despite that, it’s not the worst slate ever. Only four of their opponents made the playoffs last season, although two more did finish over .500. It may be the toughest schedule in the NFC South, but it’s only the sixth-hardest overall, thanks to games against the AFC South.
The true test of Carolina’s mettle may come in Week 7 through Week 9, when the Panthers have three consecutive home games against Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay. If they go 0-3 over that stretch, that might do them in, but two wins or more should have them well in the driver’s seat for the division.
It’s officially far too early to do this—the draft hasn’t even happened, for goodness sake—but let’s go game by game and make our first predictions on how the Panthers will do in 2015. Where will the longest winning streak be, and where will the big losing streaks be? Let’s try to figure that out now.
Week 1: at Jacksonville Jaguars
Carolina will open its schedule with a bit of a whimper, taking on one of the worst teams in football last season in the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Panthers won the last time they took on the Jaguars, in 2011, in a game that was played in a torrential downpour. It was the site of Cam Newton’s first victory in a battle of the rookie quarterbacks, with Newton leading the Panthers on a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars.
History has shown that Newton was a much better pick than Gabbert, and the Jaguars are still trying to find a replacement for David Garrard. Blake Bortles has, so far, not been the answer, but it’s been just one season. Perhaps he’ll make a leap in year two and lead the Jaguars to their first winning season since 2007. I find that somewhat doubtful, however. The Panthers should expect to get a win out of their trip to Florida.
Current Record: 1-0
Week 2: vs. Houston Texans
Carolina first returns home as divisional champion with its second consecutive game against the AFC.
This will be only the fourth meeting all time between the Panthers and Texans. The Panthers finally got their first win against the club in their last meeting, all the way back in 2011. This was back when the Texans were really good, making the playoffs season after season, but rookie Cam Newton and company jumped out to an early 21-0 halftime lead and held on for the 28-13 victory.
Since then, Newton’s only gotten better, while the Texans briefly visited the dumps. They have rebuilt themselves thanks in large part to the ferocious J.J. Watt on defense, but they still have too many offensive question marks to be serious contenders. Putting the game in Carolina only strengthens the odds that the Panthers will even the all-time series up at two games apiece, and it would get the Panthers off on the right foot.
Current Record: 2-0
Week 3: vs. New Orleans Saints
The first divisional matchup of the year sees the cash-strapped New Orleans Saints coming to Carolina, trying to repeat their success from last season.
Last year, the Panthers had the misfortune of playing the Saints on a Thursday night game, which tend to be sloppier. The Saints, who were coming into the game on a seven-game road losing streak, took advantage of the less-crisp play and ran all over the Panthers, with Mark Ingram going for 100 yards, killing the clock with long scoring drives.
This year, the Panthers will have a full week of rest before facing the Saints, which will help. So will the dismantling of the Saints, with Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, Pierre Thomas and Ben Grubbs leading an offensive exodus out of New Orleans.
The Panthers should be poised to strike. You can never count out a team led by Drew Brees, but the Panthers should be able to handle them at home.
Current Record: 3-0
Week 4: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Panthers are unfortunate enough to have an early bye this year, so the Tampa Bay game is their last before getting a week to rest.
This game opened the season slate for Carolina last season, and it’s safe to say it went well. Without Cam Newton, who was still recovering from a rib injury suffered in the preseason, Derek Anderson took the reins. That was more than enough to handle the hapless Buccaneers, as Anderson threw a couple of touchdown passes on the way to a 20-14 victory.
Hopefully, Newton won’t have any more rib injuries or car crashes and will actually get to play against the Buccaneers in a game this season. If the Buccaneers couldn’t beat the Panthers’ backup quarterback, they don’t really have much of a hope against their starter. I have the top three teams in the NFC South splitting their season series against one another, but Tampa Bay is just a clear rung below them, so the Panthers get the season sweep.
That’s a 4-0 start before the bye week, continuing their hot streak from the end of last season. But the schedule’s about to get a lot tougher.
Current Record: 4-0
Week 6: at Seattle Seahawks
The Panthers will have two full weeks to get ready for the defending NFC champions, and they’ll need every minute.
Perhaps no team in football has given the Seahawks as much trouble as the Panthers have over the past few seasons. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Panthers nearly pulled off victories in low-scoring slugfests, and the divisional round game this season was closer than the final 31-17 score indicated.
That’s a lot of “close, but no cigar” results, however, and the Panthers have not been able to get over the hump. They’ve lost their last five matchups against the Seahawks, and while they’ve been competitive, the Seahawks always seem to get the last laugh. The three close matchups were all in Carolina, while the last two games in Seattle ended 31-17 and 31-14. Anything’s possible, but this is the most likely loss on Carolina’s schedule this season.
Current Record: 4-1
Week 7: vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday Night)
Carolina’s first prime-time matchup comes on NBC against the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense versus the running prowess of the Carolina Panthers was definitely a juicy one, and the nation will get to see it.
Last year’s matchup against the Eagles was a bit of a nightmare. That’s the game that Star Lotulelei was injured in, which impacted the run defense the rest of the way. It was a nationally televised blowout, with Carolina losing 45-21 despite the Eagles being forced to start backup quarterback Mark Sanchez rather than the injured Nick Foles. The game was really over in the second quarter, when the Eagles jumped out to a 24-7 lead with more than 40 minutes left in the game.
I think this is one of the most crucial matchups the Panthers will have in 2015. This is a winnable game at home, especially considering that we don’t know whom the Eagles will start at quarterback yet. The Eagles were clearly a better team last season, finishing 10-6 and just missing the playoffs. However, they crumbled down the stretch, while the Panthers soared. This will be a huge test for the Panthers—a winnable game at home against a better team. If the Panthers want to repeat as division champions, this is a big, big game for them.
I’m still going to pick the Eagles here in a close one, but until we know for sure who will start at quarterback, this remains a puzzle.
Current Record: 4-2
Week 8: vs. Indianapolis Colts (Monday Night)
Back to back prime-time games put the Panthers squarely in focus at the end of October and beginning of November. Their toughest AFC matchup gets ESPN’s treatment on November 2.
The Panthers are actually 4-1 all time against the Colts, which is fairly impressive in the Peyton Manning era. The last matchup, however, didn’t pit the Panthers against Manning, but against Curtis Painter and the 2011 edition, in the year before Andrew Luck came to town. The 0-10 Colts didn’t offer much of a challenge to the Panthers, who won 27-19 for their first road victory in nearly two years.
The Panthers won’t get to face Curtis Painter this time, but Luck, arguably the best young quarterback in football. Some teams get all the luck. As it stands, the Panthers' odds of winning are larger than they would be if the game were in Indianapolis, but the Colts just look to be on a higher level than the Panthers. A win wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world, but the Colts should be the favored team here.
Current Record: 4-3
Week 9: vs. Green Bay Packers
This matchup isn’t a prime-time game, but there’s a good chance that most of the country will get this one. It’s Fox’s top matchup of the week and could easily be slotted into a national broadcast window, especially if Carolina gets off to a hot start.
2014’s matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers didn’t turn out very well. Rodgers threw for three touchdowns in a 38-13 route that saw the backups in before all was said and done. Everything went wrong. Luke Kuechly was ejected halfway through, Philly Brown went down with a concussion, penalties mounted. It was a game to forget.
This was before the Panthers' late-season renaissance, so if there’s any carryover from that, this matchup should be closer. It’s also in Carolina rather than Green Bay, and that’s worth a few points in and of itself. However, the Packers are one of the two or three teams most favored to win the Super Bowl, while the Panthers will be fighting to win the NFC South with a 9-7 record or so. This is part of the penalty for winning your division, and it’s unlikely to be a good matchup for Carolina in 2015.
A tough middle part of the schedule erases Carolina’s early start as the schedule gets tougher.
Current Record: 4-4
Week 10: at Tennessee Titans
The spotlight drops off Carolina as the competition drops off. The Panthers’ first road trip after a three-game homestand might be a good opportunity to get everything straightened out again.
The Panthers have actually never beaten the Tennessee Titans. They won a game in 1996 against the Houston Oilers, but since then have struck out. Their last matchup, in 2011, ended in a 30-3 drubbing in front of the Carolina faithful. It was one of rookie Cam Newton’s worst games, being sacked five times, throwing an interception and managing just 212 yards passing. Chris Johnson ran all over them to the tune of 130 yards, and Matt Hasselbeck and Damian Williams shredded the secondary. It wasn’t pretty.
It was also a long time ago. The Titans lost 14 of their last 15 games last season and still don’t have an answer at quarterback. Will it be Marcus Mariota? Zach Mettenberger? A mid-round pick like Garrett Grayson? At this point, your guess is as good as mine. No matter who it is, however, the Panthers are poised to get their first ever win over a team from Tennessee.
Current Record: 5-4
Week 11: vs. Washington
Picking up a win after a four-game losing streak should re-energize the franchise somewhat, and they’ll look to build on it here.
The Panthers are riding a three-game winning streak over Washington, with their last matchup being in D.C. back in 2012. At that time, Cam Newton v. Robert Griffin III was a marquee matchup, but neither team was very good, with a combined record of 4-11 coming into that game. Washington committed 13 penalties, which helped the Panthers snap a losing streak and win that one.
RGIII is no longer considered an elite quarterback, and Washington has spiraled further and further into the dumps since the last matchup. The lightning in a bottle that was their rookie quarterback has run out, while Newton has just matured and gotten better since then. Now, the question isn’t whether or not Carolina should be favored, but how much they should be favored by. Carolina’s clearly the better team, and it's playing at home. That’s a win.
Current Record: 6-4
Week 12: at Dallas Cowboys (Thanksgiving Day)
Carolina gets the honor of playing on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, its first Thanksgiving game in franchise history. Dallas got embarrassed in 2014, and its overall Thanksgiving Day record of 29-17-1 (.628) is actually slightly worse than their overall home winning percentage of .643, but it’s still going to be a rowdy crowd in a tough atmosphere.
Of course, this is more than just two NFC playoff teams playing one another. Greg Hardy signed with the Cowboys this offseason, and this game is late enough that any potential suspension would likely be over by this point.
The Panthers haven’t played the Cowboys since 2012 and haven’t actually managed to beat them since 2004. The 2012 meeting was the closest since then, a 19-14 affair that was ended by some Dan Bailey field goals, but the Panthers have generally struggled with America’s Team.
I don’t see any reason that will change in 2015. The Cowboys are a Super Bowl contender, and the Panthers simply aren’t in that rung yet. They’re trending positively, I think, but it’ll be a few more years before they can really go on the road against one of the NFC’s top teams and expect to come out with a victory.
Current Record: 6-5
Week 13: at New Orleans Saints
The last five games of Carolina’s schedule will be crucial. Four of the five are against divisional opponents, starting with the road trip to New Orleans.
The road game against the Saints last season started the Panthers end-of-season winning streak with a bang. Cam Newton was responsible for four touchdowns and really put this one away before halftime on the way to a 41-10 rout. The Saints imploded at the end of last season, while the Panthers rocketed to the top. When you get two teams going in opposite directions like that, the collision is epic.
I’m still not ready to write the Saints off entirely, however, even with their offensive losses. This is still a Drew Brees-led team, and they’ll find something to do on offense, even as they begin a salary-cap-imposed rebuilding. The Panthers are the better team, but I’m not quite ready to predict that they’ll win inside the Superdome. Call it a loss as part of a season split.
Current Record: 6-6
Week 14: vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons and Panthers played for the division title last year, and there’s no reason to think they won’t both be in the running again in 2015. I hate it when two teams are scheduled to play in two out of three weeks; a single injury or suspension could dramatically change the NFC South race. Nevertheless, that’s what the Panthers face with the Falcons, starting here in Week 14.
Last year’s home game against the Atlanta Falcons nearly derailed the Panthers’ season entirely. The Falcons jumped out to a 16-3 lead through three quarters, only for the Panthers to mount a furious fourth-quarter comeback, with touchdown passes to Kelvin Benjamin and Philly Brown. They even had a chance to kick a massive 63-yard field goal to win the game, though it was blocked. The loss dropped them to 3-7-1 going into their bye, and most people wrote the Panthers off then.
Any game that comes down to a last-second field goal, even an overly optimistic one, is essentially a tie. One ball bouncing another way, or Graham Gano connecting on the 46-yarder earlier in the quarter, would have produced a much different result. Considering they essentially tied this one and beat the Falcons in Week 17, I think the game will go the other way in the replay in 2015.
Current Record: 7-6
Week 15: at New York Giants
The last non-divisional game starts Carolina’s last road trip, a two-game stretch with the division very much in the balance. Hopefully, the weather in New York won’t be too bad, as this is the only potentially nasty weather game on the schedule.
The last time these two teams played, in 2013, it was a laugher for Carolina. The 38-0 drubbing they handed New York is one of the worst losses the team has suffered in the Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin era. Cam Newton scored four touchdowns, and Manning found himself on the ground seven times, in a game that was over long before the clock hit zeroes.
Things have changed since then. I’m actually a big fan of what the Giants have accomplished this past season and offseason, and I think they’ll make a serious run at the playoffs. The emergence of Odell Beckham is huge, and adding Shane Vereen to the backfield is going to be a major boost for them. Once they get Victor Cruz back from injury, the team should be in fine form. I think the Giants are going to surprise people this year, and that includes a win over Carolina.
Current Record: 7-7
Week 16: at Atlanta Falcons
The last road trip of the season sees Carolina returning to the site of their NFC South triumph from last season.
Last year, the Panthers went into Atlanta on the very last day of the season and pulled off an absolutely dominating win, coming out on top to the tune of 34-3 and clinching their place in the playoffs. The game was mostly over before halftime, when Roddy White’s fumble set up Cam Newton’s touchdown to make the score 24-3 in the second quarter. Playoff parties began in earnest.
While that could happen again, in reality the Falcons and Panthers are fairly evenly matched overall. When in doubt, give the win to the home team. I have the Panthers splitting the season series against the Falcons, just like last year—only with the win at home and the loss on the road.
Current Record: 7-8
Week 17: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last year’s season finale was an exciting, de facto NFC South championship. If there’s a repeat of that in 2015, it’d likely be in the New Orleans-Atlanta game, because Tampa Bay isn’t quite ready to challenge for the division yet.
Last year’s home game against the Buccaneers very nearly derailed Carolina’s four-game winning streak. The Buccaneers put on some late pressure, and they had the ball down less than a field goal with 23 seconds left on their way to a 19-17 loss. That’s not a super-thrilling result against a team that ended up with the No. 1 overall pick, but it kept the Panthers alive in the NFC South race. Some of that can be chalked up to Derek Anderson getting the start after Cam Newton’s car crash, however, so take the results with a grain of salt.
Last year’s close results aside, the Buccaneers are one of the few teams in the league that the Panthers are undisputedly better than. Unless Jameis Winston is drafted by Tampa Bay and has an amazing rookie season as quarterback, it’s going to be a long process for the Buccaneers to get back to something approaching respectability. While anything can happen in a divisional matchup, this is probably the closest thing to a guaranteed win the Panthers have on their schedule.
Sadly, it might be too little, too late. An 8-8 record would have been enough to win the division last season, but nine wins would be a lot more comfortable. That three-game homestand against Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay could be the difference. A win or two there and the Panthers’ final record looks just fine. An 0-3 run there, and you end up with a final record of…
Final Record: 8-8
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Carolina Panthers during the NFL Draft. Follow him @BryKno on twitter.