Two seasons removed from their loss in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers will return to Levi’s Stadium in 2017 when they open the season on the road in San Francisco for a 4:25 p.m. game.
The NFL released schedules for all 32 teams Thursday night. This will be the sixth time in seven seasons under coach Ron Rivera the Panthers have opened the season on the road. The lone season of Rivera’s tenure in which the Panthers opened at home was 2013, a 12-7 loss against the Seattle Seahawks — who went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII.
Carolina’s 2017 opponents combined to go 129-127 last season, a .504 win percentage. That puts the Panthers smack in the middle in strength of schedule at 16 out of 32 teams.
Coming off a disappointing 6-10 season, here’s a look at what the Panthers will face this year:
WAITING ON THE DIVISION
The Panthers, who finished last in the NFC South last season after a three-year run as division champions, have just one divisional matchup in their first seven weeks — a Sept. 24 home battle against New Orleans.
Carolina will face Tampa Bay and Atlanta in back-to-back weeks, traveling to play the Bucs on Oct. 29 before hosting the Falcons, the reigning division and conference champions, on Nov. 5 at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers will travel to New Orleans on Dec. 3 and will again face its other two division opponents in back-to-back weeks to close the season, hosting the Bucs on Christmas Eve before playing Atlanta in its new home at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on New Year’s Eve.
OLD FRIENDS IN HOME OPENER
Sean McDermott, who served as Carolina’s defensive coordinator for six seasons starting in 2011, will bring his Buffalo Bills to Charlotte for the Panthers’ home opener on Sept. 17.
McDermott will have a few ex-Panthers with him in fullback Mike Tolbert, wide receiver Philly Brown and nickel corner Leonard Johnson.
The Panthers are 4-2 in home openers under Rivera.
VISITING THE CHAMPS
The Panthers will travel to Gillette Stadium on Oct. 1 to face the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The series is tied at 3-3, with the Panthers claiming the latest victory in a 24-20 game at Bank of America Stadium in 2013.
But the Patriots have the biggest win in the series — a 32-29 victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII courtesy of Adam Vinatieri.
BYE, BYE PRIME TIME
After playing in a franchise-record five prime-time games in 2016, the Panthers have just two night games scheduled this season. The Panthers will play Philadelphia on Thursday night, Oct. 12, at home and will host the Miami Dolphins at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13. Carolina has never beaten Miami in Bank of America Stadium.
There’s a chance one of the Panthers’ games later in the season could be flexed to Sunday night, but it depends on their record. Finishing with another 6-10 mark won’t get it done.
Before traveling to Foxborough, Ma., for a meeting with the defending champions, Carolina starts the season with three games against teams that missed the playoffs in 2016 – the 49ers, Bills and Saints. The first two opponents have new head coaches.
Aside from the 2015 Panthers, who started the season with a 14-0 mark, Rivera’s teams have traditionally started off on the wrong foot. In Rivera’s six seasons, Carolina has started 1-3 four times and 2-2 once.
After losing to the Broncos in a 21-20 heartbreaker last season, the Panthers never seemed to return to form. Starting the 2017 season with a win could give a much-needed confidence boost to a team looking to regain its swagger.