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Five intriguing aspects of Panthers' schedule

Posted Apr 23, 2014

CHARLOTTE – We now know who the Panthers will play and when they'll play them, but there are always elements to dissect and discuss.

Here are five intriguing features of the Panthers' 2014 schedule.  

1. GAP IN DIVISION GAMES

Carolina opens the season at Tampa Bay against the division-rival Buccaneers, led by new head coach Lovie Smith – the head coach in Chicago when Ron Rivera served as defensive coordinator.

The Panthers don't face an NFC South opponent again until Week 9 when they host the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football. Thus, Carolina's standing in the division race will be determined in the second half of the year, as five of the Panthers' last eight games come against division foes.

2. PRIMETIME PANTHERS

The Panthers play their first of three primetime games in Week 3 when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football.

They later host a Thursday night showdown against the Saints in Week 9 before traveling to Philadelphia to face the Eagles 10 days later on Monday Night Football.

The only other time the Panthers have hosted at least two primetime games was 1997, when they actually hosted three – one against then-NFC West rival San Francisco on Monday Night Football and a pair of Sunday night games on TNT, which shared the Sunday night schedule with ESPN from 1990-97. The final NFL broadcast on TNT pitted the Panthers against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 26, with Carolina coming away with a 21-12 victory.

3. SMITH ON THE OTHER SIDE

Baltimore Ravens wideout Steve Smith – the Panthers' all-time leading receiver – will play against Carolina for the first time in Week 4 in what will undoubtedly be an emotionally charged game for Smith, his former teammates and Panthers fans.

4. LATE BYE

The Panthers' bye comes in Week 12 and is the latest bye the team has had since 2001. Carolina has had a bye week after eight games four times, most recently in 2011.

The off week in November could come in handy as the Panthers prepare for the stretch run of the season.  

5. FINALE IN ATLANTA ... AGAIN

The Panthers' regular season schedule ends the same way it did last season – at Atlanta.

Last year, Carolina defeated Atlanta 22-21 in Week 17 to claim the division title. It was the first time the Panthers had earned a victory in the Georgia Dome since 2007.