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Taking a peek at future opponents


Head coach Ron Rivera spent his Sunday watching other NFL teams do battle from the comfort of his own home, but he discovered too late that watching the Panthers' next opponent – the Arizona Cardinals - wasn't an option.

For obvious reasons, Rivera doesn't subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket.

"I'm usually busy," Rivera said with a laugh. "I watched what was on TV. It was interesting."

Rivera admitted he drove his wife crazy at times, unable to take his coach's hat off while watching.

"There are a lot of things that go through my mind when I watch a game," Rivera said. "As my wife says, 'You don't do anything normal when you watch football.'

"That's part of the job description, I guess. But it was fun."

I, too, took in football from a different perspective than I do most Sundays. I keep up with the league as a whole by watching Monday and Thursday games whenever possible and check out highlights after the fact on Sundays. But this past Sunday, I followed a good amount of the action live via NFL RedZone, albeit on my phone while driving back from a weekend getaway.

Anytime I get the chance to watch, I always have the Panthers' perspective in mind, and there were some interesting things to see along those lines.

Did you catch how Seattle, which opened its season with a narrow victory over Carolina, improved to 4-0? Down 20-6 entering the fourth quarter at Houston, the Seahawks simply found a way to win, rallying for a 23-20 overtime triumph.

And what about Buffalo, which edged the Panthers in frustrating fashion in Week 2? Well, the Bills added a victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens to their list of early-season accomplishments.

The takeaway? Going toe-to-toe with the Seahawks isn't easy, and winning in Buffalo isn't easy, either.

On the other hand, the Panthers' victim in Week 3, the New York Giants, continued to struggle. But if you're playing the comparison game, the Panthers were more dominant against the Giants than the still-unbeaten Chiefs were. Kansas City led 10-7 late in the third quarter before a pulsating punt return sent the Chiefs on their way.

That's all well and good, but what about what's to come? After getting a chance to see each of the Panthers' next five opponents in action, I must say that as a group they look vulnerable. Arizona, Minnesota, St. Louis and NFC South foes Tampa Bay and Atlanta are currently a combined 5-15, with three of those victories coming at the expense of each other.

They all feature quarterbacks that aren't particularly known for their mobility, a fact that has to excite a Panthers defensive front that recorded seven sacks against the Giants. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, much like future opposing quarterbacks Drew Brees of the Saints and Tom Brady of the Patriots, is known for being able to buy time by subtly moving the pocket. But so is Eli Manning.

Among NFC teams that have played four games, only the Buccaneers and Giants have scored fewer points than the Rams and this week's opponent, the Cardinals. Arizona, however, appears to be much more dangerous at home, as they showed in Week 2 by handing the Lions their lone loss to date.

It's still early, and perspective changes from week to week in the NFL. But based on where things stand at this moment, the Panthers' schedule that ranked as the toughest in the NFL based on 2012 winning percentages seems manageable.

The four-game stretch still to come with the Falcons, 49ers, Patriots and Dolphins, then a four-game stretch to end the season with the Saints twice as well as the Falcons is daunting to be sure. But if the Panthers can take advantage of the four-game stretch that starts Sunday in Arizona to build confidence not to mention their win-loss record, Rivera might be too busy to watch the playoffs on television.

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