CHARLOTTE — The 2021 Panthers should have the opportunity for a positive start to the season.
They're going to need it.
Carolina released the 2021 full schedule on Wednesday night, after the league already announced that the Panthers will open the season at home in Week 1 for the fourth-straight year.
After a relatively manageable workload in the first month, the Panthers have to wait until December for a bye, and then have a brutal closing stretch of the 2021 NFL regular season.
The Panthers rank 26th in the league in opponents' strength of schedule for 2021, though that number is based on 2020 records and doesn't always turn out to be an accurate indicator of the following year's performance.
Carolina only plays six teams this season which advanced to the 2020 playoffs, but finish the schedule with four straight against postseason participants.
That begins with a Week 15 trip to Buffalo, followed by a home game against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, then a road game at New Orleans before closing the now-17-game schedule with a trip to Tampa Bay.
(Of course, if you're a glass-half-full type, you could also imagine that if you have to play a 44-year-old quarterback twice, playing Tom Brady in Weeks 16 and 18 is the time to do it. Maybe this is the year he finally looks his age. And without Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints could be a completely different team.)
That strenuous final stretch of the season is made more difficult because the Panthers have to wait so long to catch their breath.
Their bye week comes in Week 13, marking a long march through training camp, preseason and 12 straight weeks of football before a chance to rest.
Other than that, things set up nicely for the Panthers early.
They open at home against the New York Jets, creating a Sam Darnold vs. Zach Wilson storyline, which will get plenty of play for the next four months.
They host the Saints in Week 2, then go to Houston for their only scheduled primetime game of the season in Week 3.
That Sept. 23 appearance on Thursday Night Football is the only night game, as 14 of the 17 games are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sundays.
They also have a late-afternoon trip to Arizona in Week 10, and the Week 15 game against the Bills is to be determined (either Dec. 18 or 19). That's one of five TBDs on the schedule in Week 15, and two of those will be played on Saturday. That determination will be made no later than four weeks prior to the game.
The Panthers will have to wait until midseason for the reunion tour to kick in. Week 7 features a trip to New York with former general manager Dave Gettleman and cornerback James Bradberry and kicker Graham Gano. Week 9 brings a potential rematch against former quarterback Cam Newton, as the Patriots visit on Nov. 7. Week 11 brings a visit from former coach Ron Rivera and many others including wide receiver Curtis Samuel, when the Washington Football Team comes to Charlotte.
The NFL will break down the full schedule across the league at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network during its Schedule Release show.
Panthers single-game tickets will go on sale to the general public at 9 p.m. ET at www.panthers.com/tickets/single.
View photos and matchup information for all of the Panthers' 17 games in 2021.