I generally like the Panthers' 2012 schedule, which features two prime-time games (a Thursday nighter and a Monday nighter) and a bunch of glamorous games since they have rotated into playing the NFC East this season. You can find the full schedule here, but here are a couple of good and bad things about the schedule in my view.
2 GOOD THINGS
1) The Panthers have a realistic chance at starting 2-0. They won't have an easier road game all season than Tampa Bay, which is their opener. Carolina beat the woeful Bucs twice last season. And then they will get the depleted New Orleans Saints in Charlotte. It stands to reason that -- although "BountyGate" suspensions for Saints players haven't been announced -- at least a few of the Saints' key defenders will be suspended for that game. The Saints will still be feeling their way with Sean Payton out for the season.
2) There are some wins to be had before Christmas in December, when the playoff picture comes into focus. Carolina plays five games in December, and the first four (at Kansas City, home vs. Atlanta, at San Diego and home vs. Oakland) will be tough but not a murderer's row.
2 BAD THINGS
1) Games 3-7. When you went 6-10, it stands to reason that a lot of teams were better than you a year ago. But the Panthers face five of them in a row fairly early in the season, starting with that prime-time game at home against the New York Giants Sept.20 and ending with a road game at Chicago Oct.28. In between is a road game against Atlanta and home games vs. Seattle and Dallas. No Tampa Bays in that bunch -- all of them were better than 6-10 a year ago.
2) Closing at New Orleans. If the Panthers are going to make the playoffs, they better qualify during the first 15 weeks. I don't like their chances going into the Superdome in the final week of the season (Dec.30th), playing in one of the loudest atmospheres in America against a Saints team that should be full strength and rolling on offense as usual behind Drew Brees.
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