Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ 2017 schedule: 5 things to know, including how Ron Rivera helped the Falcons

The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons will meet in the season finale on Dec. 31 at the Falcons’ new stadium.
The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons will meet in the season finale on Dec. 31 at the Falcons’ new stadium. TNS

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

1. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players?

A year after playing a franchise-record five prime-time games, the Panthers only drew two dates under the lights. At least both are home: A Thursday night game against Philadelphia on Oct. 12 and a Monday night matchup with Miami on Nov. 13.

That’s what 6-10 a season after the Super Bowl will get you.

There’s a chance one of the Panthers could be flexed to a Sunday prime-time game. But as things stand now the Panthers are scheduled for 13 games with 1 p.m. kickoffs.

Plan your tailgate parties accordingly.

2. On the road again.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera raised a bit of a stink last year about his team’s Week 1 game at Denver – a Super Bowl rematch that was the first game on the NFL schedule. Rivera wanted a chance for his players to be honored for the NFC title with a home game to start the season.

The Panthers don’t have anything to celebrate from the previous season this year. Good thing, because they’ll open the season away from Charlotte again.

The Sept. 10 game at San Francisco marks the sixth time in seven seasons that a Rivera-coached team has been on the road for Week 1.

Rivera will find little solace in the fact that his comments apparently did have some effect on the schedule-makers. The Falcons weren’t asked to go to New England for a Super Bowl rematch in Week 1 (the Chiefs will play the Patriots instead).

In fact, Atlanta doesn’t travel to Foxborough until Week 7.

3. Good chance for a fast start.

Speaking of the Patriots, the Panthers could be 3-0 when they go to New England in Week 4.

Carolina starts the season with three games against teams that missed the playoffs in 2016 – the aforementioned 49ers, Buffalo and New Orleans. The first two opponents have new head coaches, including one the Panthers know well.

Former Panthers defensive coordinator will bring his first Bills team to Charlotte for Carolina’s home opener on Sept. 17. He’ll have a few ex-Panthers with him – receiver Philly Brown, fullback Mike Tolbert and nickel back Leonard Johnson.

“I’m excited to open our home schedule with a familiar face in Sean McDermott,” Rivera said. “He knows our team well, is an excellent coach and will have the Bills ready to play.”

A one-point loss to the Broncos last season (after Graham Gano missed a game-winning field goal) set the tone for a tough season. Jumping out of the gates quickly would do wonders for the confidence of Cam Newton and Co.

4. Home for the holidays.

The Panthers will play a Christmas Eve game at home for the second consecutive season.

The Week 16 game against Tampa Bay is the last of three consecutive December home games that could go a long way in determining the Panthers’ playoff hopes.

The home stretch follows a Week 11 bye and road games against the New York Jets (Nov. 26) and New Orleans (Dec. 3).

The Panthers then return home for games against NFC North foes Minnesota and Green Bay, followed by the Christmas Eve clash with the Bucs, who swept Carolina in 2016.

5. Wrapping up the regular season in the ATL.

The Panthers have to wait until Week 17 to get a look at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons’ new $1.2 billion home that features a retractable roof.

If Carolina bounces back from last year’s disappointment and the Falcons keep rolling without Kyle Shanahan, this Dec. 31 game could decide the NFC South.

This will be the fifth time the Panthers and Falcons have met in Week 17. Carolina has won three of the previous Week 17 games with Atlanta, clinching division titles in the Georgia Dome in 2013 and 2014.

Facility workers will be busy: The Chick-fil-A Bowl will be played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 1, followed by the national championship game on Jan. 8.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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