The Carolina Panthers will open the season on the road against Jacksonville and finish it at home against NFC South rival Tampa Bay.
In between, the Panthers have a Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas and face a challenging, midseason stretch that includes three games against teams that advanced to conference championship games in 2014.
The NFL released the full 2015 schedule on Tuesday night. Here are three things to know about the Panthers’ schedule:
Turkey Bowl matchup and two prime-time games
As first reported by the Observer, the Panthers will play on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in their history when they travel to Dallas on Nov. 26 for a 4:30 p.m. game (CBS).
The Week 12 matchup means Carolina is likely to face former defensive end Greg Hardy, who faces a potential lengthy suspension stemming from his domestic violence case but not one that stretches into late-November.
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said this week he hoped the Cowboys game would be early in the season so Carolina wouldn’t have to play against Hardy.
Davis didn’t get his wish, but the Panthers do get a shot at America’s Team on a holiday that has become synonymous with food and football.
The Panthers’ only two prime-time games fall in consecutive weeks at home – a Sunday night matchup against Philadelphia on Oct. 25 (NBC), followed by a Monday night contest against Indianapolis on Nov. 2 (ESPN) that will pit No. 1 overall picks Cam Newton and Andrew Luck against each other.
“It’s exciting for our players to be able to compete on Thanksgiving Day,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We also have two primetime games, and I think our players have earned the right to be in the spotlight. We have to take advantage of those.”
The two prime-time games fall during a midseason stretch that will go a long way in determining whether the Panthers win the NFC South for a third consecutive season.
By virtue of their first-place finish last season, the Panthers drew games against Seattle and Green Bay, both of which beat Carolina in the regular season in 2014.
The tough stretch begins at Seattle on Oct. 18 after the Panthers’ Week 5 bye. Carolina has lost to the Seahawks three years in a row by a total of 13 points, and fell to Seattle 31-17 in the playoffs last season.
After returning from Seattle, the Panthers host their two night games against the rebuilt Eagles and the Colts, who lost to New England in the AFC title game last season.
The four-game gauntlet concludes with a Nov. 8 home game against the Packers, who advanced to the NFC Championship Game last year before losing to Seattle.
Gone for the Holidays
The Panthers open the season at Jacksonville, their expansion franchise partner when both teams entered the league in 1995.
And for the first time since 2009, the Panthers close the season at home, with a game against Tampa Bay.
Typically the Panthers go on the road in Week 17 because of the Belk Bowl. But the later start to the NFL season means the Panthers instead will vacate Bank of America Stadium for the bowl game in Week 16 for a trip to Atlanta.
The Panthers don’t face the Falcons until Week 14, then play them twice in a span of 15 days.
And although the Panthers end the season in Charlotte, the Week 17 finale against Tampa Bay follows a five-game stretch that features four road games. The Panthers will play at Bank of America Stadium only once (vs. Atlanta on Dec. 13) from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
“Every season presents challenges, regardless of when the games are played,” Rivera said. “We’ve known our opponents, but now the dates are set and we’re excited to get started.”
Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson