Panthers face potential drama with Saints down stretch

Cam Newton and the Panthers hope to return to the playoffs after falling in the wild-card round last season. AP Photo/Mike McCarn

The NFL has released its 2018 regular-season schedule. Here's a look at what's in store for the Carolina Panthers.

Breakdown: The league obviously likes the chances that the NFC South again will come down to the Panthers and New Orleans Saints, which finished last season tied at 11-5, with the Saints winning the tiebreaker. The two will meet in a Monday night game in Week 15 in Charlotte and again two weeks later at New Orleans in the regular-season finale. It creates a lot of end-of-the-season drama if the teams play to predicted form. That creates opportunity at the end of the schedule. It also puts a sense of urgency on a fast start, so those two games can't knock you out of playoff contention. Carolina has a tough schedule to start with Dallas and Atlanta the first two weeks.

Tough turnaround? Carolina coach Ron Rivera isn't a huge fan of Thursday night games to begin with. Now he has to prepare for perennial AFC powerhouse Pittsburgh (Nov. 8) on four days notice. On the road, which hasn't been kind to visitors on Thursday night. Rivera has to follow his other prime-time game, a Monday night (ESPN) clash against New Orleans in Week 15, with what could be a key home game against NFC South rival Atlanta the next week. The good news here is both games are at home. So Rivera won't has as much to question as he has in the past with the schedule makers.

Killer stretch: The middle of the schedule from Weeks 6-11 will be the toughest stretch as the Panthers play four of the six games on the road, including a trip to defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia in Week 7 and a Week 10 game at Pittsburgh. If you want to add Weeks 12-14 to the mix, the Panthers are on the road for six of nine games. That's never easy. The good news here is the last two in that stretch are Tampa Bay and Cleveland, teams that won a combined five games last season.

Strength of schedule: 12th, .512

Panthers' regular-season schedule (all times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Dallas, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

  • Week 4: Bye

  • Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m.

  • Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Washington, 1 p.m.

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, Baltimore, 1 p.m.

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 8, at Pittsburgh, 8:20 p.m.

  • Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Detroit, 1 p.m.

  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Seattle, 1 p.m.

  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.

  • Week 15: Monday, Dec. 17, New Orleans, 8:15 p.m.

  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.