The 2014 NFL schedule was released Wednesday, and with it misplaced hope or dismay based on predictions of the team’s success inferred from it. Case in point? You can imagine how many teams and their fans were nervous at the site of the Houston Texans on their upcoming 2013 schedules; the Texans finished the season 2-14 and will be picking first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Another case in point would be the Carolina Panthers, who entered the 2013 season with the most difficult schedule in the league, based on their opponent’s combined 138-116-2 record the previous season. The Panthers did endure a tough schedule in 2013, but they finished the season ranked 9th in strength of schedule according to ProFootballReference.com, tied with the Seattle Seahawks.
Interestingly, the Seahawks and Panthers ended the season with an identical strength of schedule metric (1.4), which, in short, is a statistical evaluation developed by ProFootballReference.com measuring a team’s strength of schedule based on the averages of that team’s opponent’s margin of victory, and relative offensive and defensive efficiency.
Here’s a breakdown of the Carolina Panther’s 2014 schedule, week-by-week (Home/Away games with dates, time and TV network):
- 9/7 Panthers at Buccaneers – 4:25 p.m. FOX
- 9/14 Lions at Panthers – 1 p.m. FOX
- 9/21 Steelers at Panthers – 8:30 p.m. NBC — Sunday Night Football
- 9/28 Panthers at Ravens – 1 p.m. CBS
- 10/5 Bears at Panthers – 1 p.m. FOX
- 10/12 Panthers at Bengals – 1 p.m. FOX
- 10/19 Panthers at Packers – 1 p.m. FOX
- 10/26 Seahawks at Panthers – 1 p.m. CBS
- 10/30 Saints at Panthers – 8:25 p.m. CBS/NFL – Thursday Night Football
- 11/10 Panthers at Eagles – 8:30 p.m. ESPN – Monday Night Football
- 11/16 Falcons at Panthers – 1 p.m. FOX
- 11/23 Byes: Panthers, Steelers
- 11/30 Panthers at Vikings – 1 p.m. FOX
- 12/7 Panthers at Saints – 1 p.m. FOX
- 12/14 Buccaneers at Panthers – 1 p.m. FOX
- 12/21 Browns at Panthers – 1 p.m. CBS
- 12/28 Panthers at Falcons – 1 p.m. FOX
One is immediately drawn to the fourth game against the Ravens in Baltimore, where former Panther’s and current Raven’s wide receiver Steve Smith promised WFNZ-Charlotte there would be “blood and guts everywhere” back in mid-March, before even knowing he’d be playing for the Ravens, already known for their smash-mouth play. Smith was unceremoniously released from the Panthers last month after spending his entire career with the team.
The Carolina Panthers 2014 opponent’s combined record in 2013 was 122-132-2, making their schedule one of the “easiest” in the NFL, ranking in the lower third of the league entering next season after ranking first entering last season.
If history is any indication, the chances are just as good the Panthers will end up with one of the toughest schedules in the league. At the very least it’s safe to assume opponents on the team’s 2014 schedule with losing records (e.g. the Falcons and Lions) or records right around .500 (e.g. the Ravens and Packers) from last season will only improve, potentially making these preseason schedule rankings obsolete.
At any rate, schedule highlights include the Panthers hosting a home and away game against two formidable AFC North opponents (Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers) in weeks three and four, which will test the team immediately.
The team then travels to Cincinnati to play that division’s champion Bengals week six. The schedule doesn’t get much easier from there as the Panthers face the Packers (week seven), the Super Bowl champion Seahawks (week eight), then the division rival Saints (week nine) three weeks in a row.
After a long 10-day break Carolina will face Philadelphia and division rival Atlanta before their bye week (week 12). Following the bye the Panthers face division opponents New Orleans in week 14 and then the Falcons to end the season in a match up the NFL and fans hope will be appealing.
One interesting aspect from a timing perspective is the team’s aforementioned long rest between their Thursday night game week nine against the Saints and their Monday Night game week 10 against the Eagles, which is followed by their bye week two weeks later during week 12. That timing could be crucial if the Panthers are dealing with any injuries and are making a playoff push.
Also making headlines today was the Panther’s exercising quarterback Cam Newton’s fifth-year option through 2015. Securing Newton through the 2015 season gives the cap-strapped Panthers some flexibility without worrying about their star quarterback becoming a free agent after the 2014 season.
According to ESPN.com’s David Newton, Carolina had until May 3 to inform Newton and his representation that it would use the fifth-year option that was built into the new collective bargaining agreement when he was drafted in 2011.
Under the CBA, Newton would be entitled to the average of the league’s 10 highest paid quarterbacks in 2015, or $14.67 million. The chances of the current contract reaching the fifth year are slim, however, as the team would likely sign Newton to a long-term deal prior to any threat of him reaching free agency again.
News of the Newton extension is bound to give Panther’s fans some pre-draft joy as well as a sigh of relief after a roller coaster off-season.
Certain aspects of the Carolina Panther’s off-season have been great: franchise tagging All-Pro defensive end Greg Hardy, the extensions of kicker Graham Gano and now Cam Newton, and even the signing and resigning of key reserves and free agents.
Others aspects have not been so great, including, but not limited to, the retirement of stalwart left tackle Jordan Gross, the release of team leader Smith and the losses of Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell, the team’s key receivers and special teams players, and the losses of key defensive backs, specifically Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell.
With a crucial draft just two weeks away and the 2014 opponents set, the release of next season’s schedule signifies an important part of the year: the beginning of a new season.
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