After a horrible start to the 2012 regular season, the Carolina Panthers look to build off their hot finish—when they won five of their last six games—to get ahead of what should be an extremely tough 2013 schedule.
Head coach Ron Rivera has been blamed for the team’s lack of elite play last season, but after taking over the struggling team in 2011 (2-14 the previous season), the new head coach has done an excellent job.
The real problem was underperforming players such as second-year starting quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Steve Smith, who both reached the Pro Bowl in 2011.
As great as Newton was for the Panthers in his rookie season, the sophomore slump hit the No. 1 overall pick hard, who lost nine of the first 12 games last year. He finished the season with just 19 touchdowns through the air and 12 interceptions.
Now that many of the issues surrounding the team last year have been addressed and the slate is clean, Carolina is preparing to bounce back in 2013.
|2013 Carolina Panthers Schedule|
|1||Sept. 8 ||vs. Seattle Seahawks||1 p.m.||FOX|
|2||Sept. 15 ||at Buffalo Bills||1 p.m.||FOX|
|3||Sept. 22 ||vs. New York Giants||1 p.m.||FOX|
|4||Sept. 29||BYE WEEK|
|5||Oct. 6||at Arizona Cardinals||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|6||Oct. 13||at Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||FOX|
|7||Oct. 20||vs. St. Louis Rams||1 p.m.||FOX|
|8||Oct. 24||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|9||Nov. 3||vs. Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m. ||FOX|
|10||Nov. 10||at San Francisco 49ers||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|11||Nov. 18||vs. New England Patriots||8:40 p.m.||ESPN|
|12||Nov. 24||at Miami Dolphins||1 p.m.||FOX|
|13||Dec. 1||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|14||Dec. 8||at New Orleans Saints||1 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Dec. 15||vs. New York Jets||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|16||Dec. 22 ||vs. New Orleans Saints||1 p.m.||FOX|
|17||Dec. 29 ||at Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m.||FOX|
Note: For a complete look at Carolina's 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.
The first contests of the schedule every NFL fan looks at are the divisional games.
Panthers fans have to deal with the tough NFC South, and that means two games against the always tough New Orleans Saints, two against the Super Bowl-contending Atlanta Falcons and two against the budding Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That’s an incredibly difficult divisional schedule, and the franchise would be happy to get out of these matchups with a 3-3 record.
Carolina is also scheduled to play the entirety of two other divisions—the NFC West and the AFC East. Every team wants to prove it is the best by beating the best, and the Panthers will be pushed to the limit by this year’s non-division games.
Not only will the Panthers be forced to face AFC powerhouses like the New England Patriots and the newly revamped Miami Dolphins, but they will also square off against playoff-caliber NFC teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants.
If the Panthers want to find success in 2013, they will have to earn it with this schedule.
Most Pivotal Matchups
To be the best, a team must beat the best. That’s why the most important matchups for the Panthers in 2013 come against the defending divisional champions, the Atlanta Falcons.
Not only is Atlanta coming off a successful season—it went 13-3 and lost in the conference championship to the 49ers—but the team has also cleaned up its salary cap by releasing financial drains and making smart free-agent signings like picking up running back Steven Jackson (h/t Adam Schefter).
If Carolina wants to find its way back to the postseason promised land, it must handle its business against a Super Bowl contender like the Falcons.
The Panthers get two shots at beating Atlanta this year, and those matchups will set the tone for the entire season.