The 2017 sets up as an important one for the Carolina Panthers after a disappointing attempt to defend their 2016 NFC championship. The schedule will not be easy despite a down year, however. It’s highlighted by two home primetime games, an early matchup with a former coach and a grueling October, which was released by the NFL on Thursday night.Here are five things to know about the Panthers’ upcoming season.Ready for prime timeThe Panthers host a pair of prime-time games this season. The Eagles visit Bank of America Stadium for a Thursday night game on Oct. 12, and the Dolphins travel to Charlotte for a Monday night game on Nov. 13. The Panthers get their bye the week after the Miami game, avoiding a short week following the Monday contest. It’s the sixth straight year the Panthers will appear on Monday Night Football and the fifth year in a row that Carolina will host a Monday night game.Carolina also appears on Thursday night for the fifth time in six seasons. The Panthers were shut out of Thursday games in 2015. This will also be the third straight Panthers Thursday night game played at Bank of America Stadium. Barring a Sunday game getting flexed to prime time, the Panthers will not appear on Sunday Night Football for the first time since the 2012 season.October death marchThe Panthers will play five games in the month of October, but season ticket holders won’t be as busy as the players. That’s because four of the team’s games will be played on the road. The Panthers open the month with trips to New England and Detroit, then host Philadelphia on a short week. Carolina closes out the month with trips to Chicago and Tampa Bay. It will be the first time the Panthers have had four road games in a month since January, 2006, when the team played three road playoff games in its run to the NFC Conference Championship Game. Carolina last played four of five games on the road in November/December 2015.Home for the holidaysCarolina reaps the benefits of the long October road trip in December when it begins to battle through the holidays. The Panthers play three straight home games late in the season Dec. 10 against Minnesota, Dec. 17 against Green Bay and Christmas Eve against Tampa. Before that, Carolina has two games at home to start November off (Atlanta and Miami) before their bye, which is followed by a trip to play the Jets and then a road trip to New Orleans. A matchup against the Falcons in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve also give the Panthers three divisional games in the final five.On the road yet againFor the seventh time in the last eight seasons the Panthers will be playing their opener on the road. And this time it’s a particular stinger, since the Panthers will return to the scene of their Super Bowl 50 loss in Week 1, when Carolina opens the season at the San Francisco 49ers.The good news is that the Panthers will get the 49ers, a team that isn’t expected to provide a lot of competition in 2017. Since coach Ron Rivera took the helm, the Panthers have started the season on the road six times in seven years. It’s the first time since 2011 that the Panthers open the season on the West Coast.Welcome back, SeanIn Week 2, the Panthers host the Buffalo Bills in their home opener. Buffalo fired coach Rex Ryan in the offseason, and replaced him with Sean McDermott, who served as the Panthers defensive coordinator from 2011 to 2016.”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. It will certainly be a challenge for us, and I’m looking forward to it.”McDermott gives the Bills a pretty nice advantage with his ability to have a head start on diagnosing how the Panthers will operate on both sides of the ball. He’ll focus on his Week 1 matchup against the Jets, obviously, but that second week homecoming will probably loom large as well this offseason.
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