The NFL schedule-makers did Carolina Panthers fans — and ticket scalpers — a big favor when they brought the Dallas Cowboys to Charlotte for Week 1.
It’s about time, too, as recent Carolina season openers have too often been either on the road or against a fairly listless opponent. I can’t remember a bigger buildup to a home season opener for the Panthers since 2004, when the Green Bay Packers came in for a “Monday Night Football” opener.
That one didn’t work out too well — Brett Favre had his way, the Packers won easily and Steve Smith broke his leg and missed the next 15 games.
This one? Well, the hype factor is through the roof, the Panthers are debuting a new “Panthers head” logo at the 50-yard line (finally!)and Carolina is relatively healthy with one big exception – the offensive line. It’s going to be fun.
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▪ Speaking of fun, longtime PSL holders will never forget the two times Carolina hosted the Cowboys in playoff games. They occurred almost exactly seven years apart, following the 1996 and 2003 seasons. Here are four similarities about those two games, which I covered for the Observer:
1. In the 1996 game, Anthony Johnson rushed for 104 yards on 26 carries for Carolina. In the 2003 game, Stephen Davis rushed for 104 yards on 26 carries for Carolina.
2) 2. John Kasay kicked four field goals in the first playoff game, then kicked five in the second.
3) 3. John Madden — an occasional mentor to Ron Rivera in later years — was the color analyst for both games (working with Pat Summerall for the first and Al Michaels for the second).
4. 4. Sam Mills had a huge interception in the first game, then gave the famous “Keep Pounding” speech the night before the second one when he was an assistant coach fighting cancer.
Pr ▪ Prediction time. I picked the Panthers to go 10-6 last season. They went 11-5. Last week I picked them to go 9-7 in 2018. Panthers fans mostly believe I was too pessimistic. I’m not pessimistic about this opener, however. My pick: Carolina 24, Dallas 23.