The Panthers reside in one of the best divisions in football, the NFC South, and Carolina’s matchups beyond its own division don’t make its 2018 schedule any easier.

Carolina sits in the middle of the pack (12th) in terms of strength of schedule based on last year’s records, but a glance at their opponents for this season suggests things could be more difficult, with two tough divisions on the docket in the NFC East and AFC North. The Panthers have only six matchups on the schedule against playoff teams from last season, but they also got stuck with the three teams from the NFC (Seahawks, Cowboys, Lions) that just missed the postseason at 9-7.

Carolina Panthers Game schedule

Below is a breakdown of the Panthers’ schedule in 2018.

Panthers schedule 2018

Date Opponent Kickoff time TV network
Sept. 9 vs. Dallas Cowboys 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
Sept. 16 at Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m. (FOX)
Sept. 23 vs. Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m. (CBS)
Sept. 30 BYE
Oct. 7 vs. New York Giants 1 p.m. (FOX)
Oct. 14 at Washington Redskins 1 p.m. (FOX)
Oct. 21 at Philadelphia Eagles 1 p.m. (FOX)
Oct. 28 vs. Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m. (CBS)
Nov. 4 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 p.m. (FOX)
Nov. 8 at Pittsburgh Steelers 8:20 p.m. (FOX/NFLN)
Nov. 18 at Detroit Lions 1 p.m. (FOX)
Nov. 25 vs. Seattle Seahawks 1 p.m. (FOX)
Dec. 2 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 p.m. (FOX)
Dec. 9 at Cleveland Browns 1 p.m. (FOX)
Dec. 17 vs. New Orleans Saints 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 23 vs. Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m. (FOX)
Dec. 30 at New Orleans Saints 1 p.m. (FOX)

Analysis

As a whole, the Panthers roster hasn’t undergone massive changes during the offseason, but some veteran contributors are gone. Running back Jonathan Stewart, defensive end Charles Johnson and safety Kurt Coleman headlined the departures.

Carolina did bolster its offense by trading for wide receiver Torrey Smith from the Philadelphia Eagles and signing fellow wideout Jarius Wright. Paired with top outside target Devin Funchess and tight end Greg Olsen, it’s a high-upside pass-catching group.

If the Panthers can find a power-based running back in the draft to pair with the versatile Christian McCaffrey, the unit should improve on its No. 19 ranking last season.

Meanwhile, the defense remains stout, led by the linebacker trio of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. The seemingly ageless Julius Peppers also returns after racking up 11 sacks last season for a unit that gave up 317.1 yards per game in 2017, the seventh-best mark in the league.

So the pieces are in place for the Panthers to provide tremendous value based on the aforementioned 33-1 championship odds.

Pivotal Matchups

As always, the competitiveness of the NFC South could be an issue for the Panthers, particularly if they get off to a sluggish start. None of the Saints, Atlanta Falcons or Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a pushover, which will make those six division games crucial.

Taking care of business at home will be the most important factor beyond that.

The Bank of America Stadium slate is littered with teams that have contended in recent years, but none of the non-division home games are against projected 2018 juggernauts. So the door is open for Carolina to go 7-1 or 6-2, taking some pressure off the road contests.

Anything less and the Panthers may have to steal a road game against the likes of the reigning champion Philadelphia Eagles or the AFC powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers to make the playoffs.

Toughest tests: Other than the four sure-to-be brutal matchups against the Saints and Falcons, the Panthers’ toughest game in 2018 likely will be their road matchup against the defending Super Bowl-champion Eagles. Philadelphia is coming back with a roster that features many of the same players from its title team, and the fact that it’s in Philly just adds to the degree of difficulty.

Biggest breaks: The Panthers quietly have built a bit of a rivalry with the Seahawks. The most recent matchup left something to be desired, as Seattle demolished Carolina at home, 40-7. The Seahawks will look different this year, though, and are coming off a year in which they missed the postseason. It still will be a tough matchup, but Carolina getting to play Seattle at home should make a big difference for the Panthers.

Bottom line: Carolina had what looked like a rough schedule last season and managed to come away with an 11-5 record, nearly stealing the division title from the Saints. This year, the division looks as tough as ever, and fellow NFC teams like the Eagles, Lions and Cowboys could make for some tough games, too. The Panthers are talented in their own right, though, and their style plays well both at home and on the road. Carolina should remain a conference contender. Record prediction: 10-6