With the regular season schedule now released for the 2023 NFL season and Week 1 odds already out, we can now take a look ahead at just what these new Carolina Panthers will be facing. We’re going to break the schedule down into bite size chunks and talk about everything from strength of opponents to the distance the Panthers are going to have to travel. What we aren’t doing just yet—but we’ll never stop y’all from doing in the comments—is making specific win-loss predictions in for each game.
We know vanishingly little about this team right now and we may not know much more until we see these first four games play out. Time and again we’ve seen a preseason success or failure translate into a consistent, polar opposite trait in the regular season. And we really won’t know much about our favorite team until we see Bryce Young in action. Let’s just all keep our fingers crossed that this is the storybook beginning to the Carolina Panthers first ever back-to-back winning seasons.
What we can do more comfortably is make bold prognostications about the Panthers opponents.
Week 1: at Atlanta Falcons
Week 2: vs New Orleans Saints (Monday Night Football)
Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks
Week 4: vs Minnesota Vikings
Young opening his career at a division rival and just a three-hour drive from his college stadium? Yeah, the NFL knows how to set up a road show. While the environment should certainly be hyped, the game on the field could end up being a stinker. Both team will have a lot of kinks to work out as they open the season, the Panthers will be stretching their new systems for the first time, and the Falcons aren’t exactly set to continue their, uh, “momentum” from last season.
The Atlanta offense has apparently committed to Desmond Ridder at quarterback, but I’m expecting them to flip-flop throughout the season between him and Taylor Heinicke as both players struggle. That could begin as early as this game. Neither quarterback exactly inspires fear in the hearts of Panthers fans.
As opening road games go, this is a pretty mild start in front of what should be a favorable crowd for Young. We’re starting off well.
While we may start off well, the stakes become clear by the second game. Opening with divisional match ups is a heck of a way to start off the standings for the Panthers, as they are the only team to start off with back-to-back divisional games. The Falcons and Saints each have only their games against the Panthers in that timeframe while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reigning NFC South champs, don’t have their first divisional game until Week 4 (at Saints).
To amp up the pressure on the home team, this will also be Young and company’s first primetime game. The NFL, wanting to maximize the first overall pick’s ratings value in case he’s a dud, scheduled the Panthers for Monday Night Football in just Week 2.
As for the Saints themselves, they are just one of four teams in the NFC South to be replacing their starting quarterback this season. Derek Carr may be the most proven new face in the division, but that bar hasn’t been set high. This is another game where a coherent and consistent new look Panthers teams could open some eyes around the league. It’s also another game where fits and starts as new systems gel could give us a muddy forecast for the rest of 2023.
This will be the Panthers first big boy test in the NFL this season. The NFC South is fun and all, but the real teams that compete for the playoffs do so by beating other teams that compete for the playoffs. That starts in Week 3 in Seattle.
The Seahawks will enter the season as favorites in a stacked in NFC West division with their biggest questions being how well Geno Smith continues his surprisingly good season from 2022. They gave him some help with the 20th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft (just imagine a team doing that) wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
The Panthers defense will have had two games to figure out how well their plans actually match their personnel before they get tested by what may be one of the best offenses they see all season. I’m expecting the offense to get tested as well, not so much by an impressive Seattle defense as by the need to score points in bunches to keep up.
I know I’m not making win-loss predictions yet, but let’s just say I’m not making a win prediction here.
I expect the Adam Thielen reunion story lines to be relatively sedate unless Thielen explodes as Young’s favorite, multi-touchdown target in the first three weeks.
Instead, this will just be a normal game against an average to above-average opponent at home. Prior to this we will have seen the team at home, on the road, against the division, and against a Good Team. The Vikings, barring a surprise in their quality, will provide a nearly standardized test to compare these Panthers against the league.
This is the game I’m most looking forward to in the first quarter of the season. We can use it’s results to interpret the first three games and then look ahead at the rest of the schedule. Plus, it’s the Panthers last home game before their Week 7 bye and until their Week 8 game hosting the Houston Texans on October 29th. What I’m saying is that if I wanted to attend a game, this might be the most pleasant game to go sit in the stands.