CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers will welcome the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to Bank of America Stadium to kick off the home portion of the NFL's toughest schedule.
Head coach Ron Rivera will make his regular season debut with the Panthers on Sept. 11 at the Arizona Cardinals. Green Bay visits Carolina a week later, the first of nine games against teams that won 10 or more games in 2010.
The Panthers' opponents combined to win 55.5 percent of their games last season, the highest percentage in the NFL. The figure is boosted by the success enjoyed by the rest of the NFC South last year, when the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers became just the second trio from one division to go 10-6 or better since the league went to eight four-team divisions in 2002.
The Panthers will face division foes in four of their final five games, culminating with a trip to New Orleans on New Year's Day.
"I'm excited about the schedule," Rivera said. "We play in one of the most difficult divisions in the league and we will try to meet that challenge. Four of the first six games are against teams that were in the playoffs last season, which sets a tone for the season."
|Sat.||Aug. 13||vs. New York Giants||Bank of America Stadium||8:00 p.m.||Panthers TV|
|Fri.||Aug. 19||at Miami Dolphins||Sun Life Stadium||7:30 p.m.||Panthers TV|
|Thu.||Aug. 25||at Cincinnati Bengals||Paul Brown Stadium||7:00 p.m.||Panthers TV|
|Thu.||Sept. 1||vs. Pittsburgh Steelers||Bank of America Stadium||8:00 p.m.||Panthers TV|
|Sun.||Sept. 11||at Arizona Cardinals||University of Phoenix Stadium||4:15 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Sept. 18||vs. Green Bay Packers||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Sept. 25||vs. Jacksonville Jaguars||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|Sun.||Oct. 2||at Chicago Bears||Soldier Field||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Oct. 9||vs. New Orleans Saints||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Oct. 16||at Atlanta Falcons||Georgia Dome||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Oct. 23||vs. Washington Redskins||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Oct. 30||vs. Minnesota Vikings||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Nov. 13||vs. Tennessee Titans||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|Sun.||Nov. 20||at Detroit Lions||Ford Field||1:00 p.m. *||FOX|
|Sun.||Nov. 27||at Indianapolis Colts||Lucas Oil Stadium||1:00 p.m. *||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 4||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Raymond James Stadium||1:00 p.m. *||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 11||vs. Atlanta Falcons||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m. *||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 18||at Houston Texans||Reliant Stadium||1:00 p.m. *||FOX|
|Sat.||Dec. 24||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Bank of America Stadium||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Jan. 1||at New Orleans Saints||Louisiana Superdome||1:00 p.m. *||FOX|
|* - Subject to flexible scheduling.*|
After Carolina opens at Arizona - marking the teams' 10th regular season meeting in 11 years - the Panthers will play six of their next eight games at home. The early home-cooking comes with a cost at the end, with three consecutive road games beginning in Week 11 to start a closing stretch of five road trips over the final seven games.
Beginning with the Packers (Sept. 18), the Panthers face 2010 playoff teams in four of five games, including a game at NFC runner-up Chicago (Oct. 2), followed by games against NFC South rivals New Orleans and Atlanta. Rivera played linebacker for the Bears for nine seasons and coached there on two different occasions before accepting his first head coaching job with the Panthers on Jan. 11.
The lone matchup during the five-game stretch against a team that didn't make the playoffs in 2010 is a home date with the Jacksonville Jaguars (Sept. 25), though the Jaguars were a .500 team.
The Panthers follow that challenging stretch with three consecutive home games against teams that didn't qualify for the playoffs in 2010 – Washington (Oct. 23), Minnesota (Oct. 30) and Tennessee (Nov. 13) – interrupted only by their open date on Nov. 6. Carolina is just 7-14 all-time against the trio.
The three-game road trip comes next, with just the second trip in franchise history to Detroit (Nov. 20) and just the third visit to Indianapolis (Nov. 27) before the NFC South-heavy finish starts at Tampa Bay (Dec. 4). The Panthers won their previous two games at the Colts and their only game at the Lions, and they're 6-3 at the Buccaneers since the formation of the NFC South in '02.
The lone game of the final five against a non-NFC South opponent is Dec. 18 at the Houston Texans. The Texans are one of just two NFL teams the Panthers have never beaten, though the teams have squared off just twice since Houston joined the NFL in '02. Miami is the other team that Carolina can't claim a victory against.
The playoffs begin the weekend of Jan. 7-8, with Super Bowl XLVI set for Feb. 5, 2012, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.