Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ season starts with a Super Bowl rematch vs. Broncos

Denver linebacker Von Miller, shown last September against Baltimore, was a terror against the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Carolina will see him again in the season opener Sept. 8, when the Broncos will raise their championship banner.
Denver linebacker Von Miller, shown last September against Baltimore, was a terror against the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Carolina will see him again in the season opener Sept. 8, when the Broncos will raise their championship banner. Getty Images

at Denver, Sept. 8

This Super Bowl rematch has been circled on the schedule by nearly everyone since it was announced -- except for Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers. Presumably, Mike Shula will give Remmers more help this time with Von Miller, who almost single-handedly won Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara.

If the Panthers need any added motivation, watching the Broncos trot out the Lombardi Trophy before the game should provide it. The Panthers’ front four will try to torment Broncos QB Trevor Siemian, whose only regular-season snap was a kneel-down late last season.

The Super Bowl rematch - Carolina at Denver - makes for an anticipated season opener, but Greg Olsen says the Panthers must be careful not to let this first game make or break their season.

vs. San Francisco, Sept. 18

If 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick is still continuing his protest of sitting during the national anthem, expect a good deal of talk about activism by athletes (or lack thereof) in the lead-up to the game. Once the game actually starts, the Panthers will have to be prepared for the pace of first-year coach Chip Kelly’s offense. They struggled with it during a 45-21 loss to the Eagles in 2014 when Kelly was in Philadelphia, but fared much better last fall in a 27-16 victory.

vs. Minnesota, Sept. 25

The Vikings lost starting QB Teddy Bridgewater to a season-ending knee injury last week, and will turn to 36-year-old Shaun Hill to run the offense. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer will try to win with defense and a ground game led by Adrian Peterson. Nickel back Captain Munnerlyn will return to Carolina for the first time since he left after the 2013 season. The game will also serve as Kalil Bowl II, featuring Panthers Pro Bowl center Ryan and younger brother Matt, the Vikings’ left tackle. Minnesota was a Blair Walsh missed field goal (and a Peterson fumble) away from advancing in the playoffs last season.

at Atlanta, Oct. 2

The Panthers will play their final regular-season game in the Georgia Dome, which will be demolished to create parking for the Falcons’ new $1.5 billion stadium that will open in 2017. Cam Newton and the rest of the Panthers will look to avenge their Week 16 loss at Atlanta last year that spoiled their perfect season. The win helped the Falcons salvage an otherwise disappointing season in which they failed to maintain the momentum of a 5-0 start. Atlanta added Mohamed Sanu to give Matt Ryan another proven receiver to pair with Julio Jones.

vs. Tampa Bay, Oct. 10

Some analysts are expecting QB Jameis Winston to make a big leap in his second season -- although the former Heisman winner was no slouch as a rookie. His 4,042 passing yards and 22 touchdowns ranked among the top four by a rookie quarterback, but he was intercepted 15 times. This game comes in the midst of a tough, opening five-game stretch for the Bucs that also includes dates with Arizona and Denver.

at New Orleans, Oct. 16

Unlike Tampa Bay, the Saints have a comparatively easy stretch of games to start the season. Although nothing will be easy if New Orleans doesn’t improve a defense that gave up 413 yards and nearly 30 points a game in 2015. An abysmal showing against Washington led to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s firing in November. Dennis Allen, Ryan’s successor, and several newcomers on defense -- including defensive backs Roman Harper and Cortland Finnegan, both members of the Panthers’ Super Bowl team -- will try to turn things around.

vs. Arizona, Oct. 30

When last the Panthers saw the Cardinals, confetti was falling at Bank of America Stadium and Carson Palmer was balled up in the fetal position -- figuratively, anyway. Palmer was responsible for six of Arizona’s seven turnovers that assured the NFC Championship Game would be a laugher, but the Cardinals are expected to challenge for the NFC title again. Arizona returns all of its playmakers from the NFL’s top-ranked offense in ’15, and beefed up its defense by trading for pass rusher Chandler Jones and drafting DT Robert Nkemdiche in the first round.

at Los Angeles, Nov. 6

The Panthers will make the franchise’s first trip to L.A., which hasn’t hosted an NFL game since 1994, a year before Carolina entered the league. By Week 9, No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff figures to have unseated QB Case Keenum, who is expected to be the Rams’ opening-game starter. Goff has plenty of weapons around him, including second-year RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin and rookie WR Pharoh Cooper. Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards as a rookie and should help ease Goff’s transition.

vs. Kansas City, Nov. 13

Carolina faces another AFC West opponent -- and a playoff team from last season -- when the Chiefs visit Charlotte in Week 10. Strong safety Eric Berry returned last week after a lengthy holdout to lead a stout, but aging defense. Linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are coming off offseason knee surgeries. Gigantic nosetackle Dontari Poe (6-3, 346) is back to anchor the 3-4 scheme. Meanwhile, Andy Reid’s offense will feature a strong running attack led by Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.

vs. New Orleans, Nov. 17

Fatigue could be a factor in this Thursday night matchup, the Panthers’ third game in a 12-day span -- a stretch that includes the cross-country flight to L.A. Having only a few days to prepare for Saints QB Drew Brees is not an ideal scenario, particularly if cornerbacks James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zach Sanchez show signs of hitting the rookie wall. The Saints nearly ended the Panthers’ run at perfection in Week 12 last season before Newton threw his franchise-record fifth touchdown pass -- to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:05 remaining -- after converting a fourth-and-4 with a completion to TE Greg Olsen.

at Oakland, Nov. 27

The Panthers will make just their third trip to Oakland, and it could be their last if Raiders owner Mark Davis takes the team to Las Vegas. Oakland invested heavily in its defense during the offseason, signing former Seattle LB Bruce Irvin and defensive backs Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson to pair with All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack. If QB Derek Carr can avoid the mistakes he made late last season and Oakland is still in the playoff hunt, the crazies among Raider Nation will be at full throat when the Panthers show up.

at Seattle, Dec. 4

Carolina will spend a week on the West Coast in between its road games at Oakland and Seattle. Coaches like routines, and Ron Rivera will try to keep players focused while they live out of a hotel before the annual grudge match with the Seahawks. The Sunday night matchup will be the seventh time the teams have met in the past five seasons, including playoffs. Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll had won four in a row before the Panthers turned the tide in 2015, beating Seattle 27-23 during the regular season and then withstanding a big comeback attempt to eliminate the Seahawks 31-24 in the divisional round.

vs. San Diego, Dec. 11

Rivera was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator under Norv Turner before the Panthers hired him in 2011. Turner is gone and former Panthers assistant Mike McCoy might not be long for his job if the Chargers miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. McCoy will try to coax another big season from 34-year-old QB Philip Rivers, who set career highs with 437 pass completions, 661 pass attempts and 4,792 passing yards in 2015. The Chargers finally got first-round pass rusher Joey Bosa under contract, but lost defensive lineman Sean Lissemore to a season-ending shoulder injury in camp.

at Washington, Dec. 19

The Monday night matchup in the nation’s capital promises to be epic as Josh Norman faces his former team. The Panthers have been through these revenge games against former players before, and they did not always end well (see Smith, Steve, 2014). Norman, the feisty cornerback who left after a contract impasse, crawled inside the head of Odell Beckham Jr. last December and will try to do the same against Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. And don’t think Newton has forgotten the training camp fight with Norman last year.

vs. Atlanta, Dec. 24

This is another game on short rest for the Panthers, who will face the Falcons five days after their trip to Washington. Carolina was still undefeated last season when it went to Atlanta in Week 16 (see above). While getting to 14-0 again seems like a longshot, the Panthers should be in position to clinch a playoff berth around the holidays.

at Tampa Bay, Jan. 1

While the Panthers presumably will be playing to improve their playoff positioning, the Bucs could be in the running for a wild-card spot. If that’s the case, it means Winston had a strong second season under new Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. Look for the Panthers to send linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly on double-A gap blitzes to get Winston out of rhythm as he looks for tall targets Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans downfield.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson