At first glimpse of the Panthers 2021 schedule, it looked very reasonable and one that could give Carolina a shot at the playoffs as a wild card team. Once you really study it and look at when the Panthers play certain opponents, it's not an easy schedule for the youngest team in the league to navigate through.
The first 8-9 games are very favorable for Carolina and could allow Sam Darnold and his new teammates to get off to a hot start. However, the back half of the schedule is absolutely brutal. Not only do the Panthers have to play 12 straight games before their bye week but their last four games of the year are at Buffalo, vs Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, and at Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers return all 22 starters from last year's Super Bowl-winning team and will be at the very best by the time the Panthers get their first shot at them. Playing a team of that caliber twice in three weeks is tough for any team but especially for the Panthers who are going to go through some growing pains once again in year two under head coach Matt Rhule.
The one positive with having three divisional games in the final four weeks is that Carolina can have an opportunity to make up some ground in the standings late in the season by playing those two teams. But as loaded as those teams are, that's all it may be - an opportunity.
Looking at the earlier part of the season, Carolina will make back-to-back road trips to Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3 and then the Houston Texans in Week 4. Sure, it may not be the most daunting two-game road swing but having that set early in the year makes it challenging for a young team.
The best-case scenario for the Panthers would be to get to Week 10 at 6-4 or better. It sounds like a bit of a stretch but there are some very winnable games early in the year. We know the final four games are going to be a gauntlet, so if the Panthers can keep their head above water through the bye week in Week 13, they could have a chance at a wild card spot. Unfortunately, if losses start piling up at the end of the season, they will lose some ground in the wild card race and could potentially fall clear out of the mix.
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