I've never been to a Carolina Panthers home game. but will the team have the audacity to celebrate last season's NFC South title with some sort of banner or whatever inside or outside of Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte? I ask because the Panthers won the division with a below-.500 record (7-8-1), only the second team to ever do so. Is that worth celebrating?
What really angered some around the NFL was that Carolina then got to host a playoff game against an Arizona Cardinals team that won four more games and nearly was the top overall seed in the NFC. But the NFL isn't going to take a home playoff game from a division winner anytime soon. And I should mention that the Panthers did beat those Cardinals, 27-16. The Panthers held quarterback-challenged Arizona to 78 yards, the fewest ever in an NFL playoff game.
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Carolina was just 4-4 at home last regular season, also 4-4 against the spread and 2-6 "over/under." The Panthers' 2015 home schedule ranks as the 11th easiest this season with an opponents' 2014 winning percentage of .477. But that's the hardest in the weak NFC South.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 20 -- Texans (+2.5): After opening with what should be a win in Jacksonville, the Panthers stay in the AFC South by welcoming Houston. It's only the fourth all-time meeting between the Texans and Panthers and Houston's first visit since 2007. Nice way to start for that Carolina defense: Blake Bortles and then either Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer. Things get harder the next week. Key trend: Panthers 1-5 ATS in past six at home vs. AFC South.
Sept. 27 -- Saints (pick'em): Yep, Drew Brees will be a step up in quarterback competition. When the Saints visited Charlotte in Week 9 last season on a Thursday night, the Panthers lost 28-10. Cam Newton was sacked four times and was an ugly 10-for-28 for 151 yards with a touchdown and lost fumble. Newton's 10 completions were the fewest in his career, and his 36 percent completion percentage was a career low. Key trend: Panthers 5-5 ATS in past 10 at home in series (same record SU).
Oct. 25 -- Eagles (pick'em): Nearly a month between home games because after the New Orleans matchup, the Panthers are at Tampa Bay, on the bye, then at Seattle. This starts a three-game homestand and could be a matchup of former No. 1 overall picks and Heisman winners in Newton and the Eagles' Sam Bradford. The Panthers lost in Philadelphia in Week 10 last season on a Monday night, 45-21. Newton threw for 306 yards and two TDs but three picks and was sacked nine times. Key trends: Panthers 3-7 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC East.
Nov. 2 -- Colts (-1): Another matchup of former No. 1 overall picks between Newton and the Colts' Andrew Luck. Those two have never faced off in college or the NFL. This is Carolina's only Monday night appearance of the season. Key trend: Panthers 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 at home vs. AFC.
Nov. 8 -- Packers (-2.5): Facing Aaron Rodgers on a short week is never a good thing as Carolina will do here. The Panthers were routed at Lambeau in Week 7 last season, 38-17. Even that score is misleading as the Panthers didn't get their first touchdown until there was 9:39 left in the fourth quarter when Newton found receiver Kelvin Benjamin for a 13-yard score. Key trend: Panthers are 6-4 ATS in past 10 at home when a dog of 3 points or fewer.
Nov. 22 -- Redskins (+5): Robert Griffin III vs. Newton, another nice matchup. This is the Panthers' only home game in a stretch of four as the week prior they are in Tennessee and then go to Dallas (Thanksgiving) and New Orleans the two weeks after the Redskins. Key trend: Carolina is 5-5 ATS in its past 10 as a home favorite in November.
Dec. 13 -- Falcons (+3.5): A tough two-game road trip follows this one, with trips to the Giants and then Atlanta. The Panthers lost to the visiting Falcons 19-17 in Week 11 last season heading into Carolina's bye week. Coach Ron Rivera made some very curious conservative play calls late in the fourth quarter with first down on the Atlanta 32 that eventually led to a 46-yard field goal try by Graham Gano. He missed. Newton threw for 292 and two scores but two picks. Key trend: Over/under is 1-9 in Panthers' past 10 at home as a favorite in this series.
Jan. 3 -- Buccaneers (TBD): Jameis Winston vs. Newton, yet another No. 1 vs. No. 1. Carolina beat the visiting Bucs 19-17 in Week 15 last year. You may remember that game as it came a few days after Newton was in a car accident that left him with two lower fractures in his back. Derek Anderson started and was 25-for-40 for 277 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. Key trend: Over has hit just twice in past 10 meetings in Charlotte.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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