Shortly after the Panthers released their 2020 schedule Thursday night, reporter Kristen Balboni and former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme co-hosted "Schedule Talk," a live-streamed special previewing the upcoming season.
The show's guest list featured head coach Matt Rhule and three pairings of Panthers vs. opponents: linebacker Shaq Thompson and Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate, running back Christian McCaffrey and Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, and defensive tackle Kawann Short reuniting with former teammate and current Washington linebacker Thomas Davis.
Here are a few highlights that came from those appearances:
Carolina's first-year head coach, who's been leading the team's virtual offseason program, said the first thing that stood out to him about the schedule is how quickly the Panthers will run through the NFC South.
"Instead of worrying about some of the other teams we're going to face, really making sure we understand the NFC South because you're not going to have a lot of time to figure them out as the season goes on," Rhule said. "Study their DNA — it's going to be right there in front of you."
Four of the Panthers' six divisional contests land in the first two months of the season, starting with a visit to Tampa Bay and new quarterback Tom Brady in Week 2. Carolina will face the Falcons twice during an 18-day stretch in October — first in Week 5 in Atlanta and then on Thursday Night Football in Week 8. And Carolina will go to New Orleans in Week 7 before taking on Tampa Bay at home in Week 10.
Rhule will get to start his tenure with a home game when the Panthers host the Raiders at Bank of America Stadium in Week 1.
"I think it's important," Rhule said. "I think it's a good opportunity for us to start and end on a really high note."
Rhule also noted the Panthers late bye in Week 13 could be helpful for a team that's planning to rely on a lot of young talent.
"We're going to have a lot of first-year players playing key roles for us," Rhule said. "First-year players are kind of used to getting to game 11, game 12 — it's the end of the college season. That's when they hit that proverbial rookie wall.
"So this gives us a chance to have a bye week late in the season to hopefully re-energize some of those young guys that we're going to be counting on. So, that's the positive."
SHAQ THOMPSON AND CAMERON BRATE
While the two are division rivals, they're also friends who have a lot of respect for one another's game.
"Me and Brate just built a great relationship just going against each other — like the thing that's cool, iron sharpens iron," Thompson said. "We just battle every time we play against each other. He's a great tight end and probably one of the best in the conference and in the league. He should definitely get more respect than what they put on him."
But Brate has a new quarterback this season in the six-time Super Bowl-winning Brady, and the tight end admitted he was a little surprised by Brady's decision to join the Bucs.
"I'd kind of seen the rumors going into it, but really didn't think much of it. I really didn't think he was going to come down here," Brate said. "But yeah, obviously adding someone like him, he's kind of unquestionably the greatest quarterback of all time — just the résumé he's built.
"So for us, being a team that's not really in the spotlight, we haven't been winning a lot in the past 10 years or so, really. So it kind of gives us a little more national exposure and with a player of his caliber, he's going to kind of heighten all of our sense of urgency. I'm just super excited to get to work with him."
And now the division gets that much tougher for Thompson and the Panthers.
"Just going against Brady just a couple years (ago) — man, he's the GOAT. He's great at what he does," said Thompson, who had 10 tackles in his only career game against Brady, a 33-30 win at New England in 2017.
"He knows how to read a defense. He knows how to get the linebackers to move out the zones and stuff like that and throw it right behind you. So we've got to be locked in and just get ready to go."
View photos of the Panthers 2020 opponents throughout the years.
CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY AND TYRANN MATHIEU
The Panthers are scheduled to play each team in the AFC West this season, which will include a visit to the defending Super Bowl champs. That Week 9 game will also be McCaffrey's first trip to Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "For me, growing up in a Broncos household, I only heard about all the games in Kansas City and Oakland. Being able to play against that division now in my professional career will be a lot of fun."
As he alluded to, McCaffrey will also, for the first time, face the Broncos — the team his father, Ed, won two Super Bowls with during a nine-year stay in Denver.
"I think if you were to ask me that 10 years ago, I would definitely say yes (it's really special), and I'd be really excited," McCaffrey said. "I used to have so much loyalty to teams, (but now) I've had brothers who have bounced around teams, and we've all gone to different schools, and I've got buddies who've played for different teams. So for me, later in my life, I've found myself rooting for individuals instead of teams.
"(But) it definitely will be pretty surreal playing against the Broncos. I used to go to games when I was little and, obviously, my dad playing there for so long. So it'll be pretty cool, but at the end of the day, for me, it's just approach it like another game and go out there and try to do what I do."
KAWANN SHORT AND THOMAS DAVIS
Teammates from 2013-18, Short and Davis are still very friendly with each other. Importantly, though, Short is well on the mend from a partially torn rotator cuff he suffered in Week 2 last year.
"I'm about seven months out (from surgery). It's an eight-month process. I feel about 75 to 80 percent right now," Short said. "The doctor kind of said usually a good turnaround is about seven-and-a-half (months). So I feel pretty good. I've been lifting heavy. Now it's just trying to get that range of motion back."
As for the schedule itself, Short always looks first for the opening opponent and the number of primetime games. While the Panthers do have that Thursday game with the Falcons, that's the only night game currently on the slate.
"I think that's one of the most important things is seeing how disrespected we are to not get any (extra) primetime (games)," Short said. "But we've got to make (the Raiders) feel what type of team we are this year."
Carolina and Washington will face off in Week 16, and that's going to be a special one for Davis, who spent the first 14 years of his career with the Panthers. The linebacker admitted there will be plenty of texts back and forth between him and his former teammates leading up to that Sunday.
"I know it's going to be a bunch of jitters. It's going to be a bunch of butterflies. But it's going to be exciting. I'm looking forward to it," Davis said. "It's an opportunity to come back out and just compete with some of my brothers who are still on the team. But at the same time, it's all about going and trying to get that win."
With voices like Davis and Luke Kuechly no longer on the Panthers' roster, the defense will need veteran leadership. It's not necessarily in Short's nature to be all that vocal, but it's a role he plans to expand in 2020.
"It's something that I have to do if I want to be a leader around here," Short said. "Being around guys like TD and all of those guys, they kind of laid out the blueprint of how it's done, what needs to be said at the right time."