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5 things to know about the Panthers' schedule

Five things to know about the Panthers' schedule, which was released Thursday night:

1-It won't be easy.

For the second time in three years, the Panthers have the NFL's toughest schedule based on opponents' winning percentage the previous season. Carolina faces six playoffs teams from 2012, including three – New England, Minnesota and San Francisco – that will be coming off a bye week. A three-game stretch in November against the Falcons, 49ers and Patriots could determine Ron Rivera's future.

2-The division will be decided late.

The Panthers don't play an NFC South rival until Week 8 at Tampa Bay. Four of their six division games come in December, when they play New Orleans twice in a 15-day span and close the season at Atlanta in Week 17.

3-Panthers get two chances to prove they're prime-time players.

The Panthers go to Tampa Bay on Thursday night in Week 8, and host New England on Monday night in Week 11. The Panthers were 1-1 in prime time last season, beating Philadelphia and getting blown out by the Giants, who come to Charlotte in Week 3 for the second year in a row.

4-Get ready for the zone read.

Cam Newton vs. Seattle second-year QB and ex-N.C. State standout Russell Wilson in Week 1 in Charlotte. Cam vs. the Niners' Colin Kaepernick in Week 10 at San Francisco.

5-They caught a break with potential bad/hot weather games.

The Panthers won't see snow in Buffalo in September, and head to Arizona in October and Miami in November when both places will be cooler.

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