Five things, including the toughest stretches, about the Carolina Panthers' schedule

Five things, including the toughest stretches, about the Carolina Panthers' schedule
When the Dallas Cowboys come to Charlotte on Sept. 9, it will mark the Carolina Panthers' first home opener since 2013. Above, Panthers fans cheer on their team during a win at Dallas in 2015. (Credit: David T. Foster III I The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Joseph Person/The Charlotte Observer) - The Carolina Panthers will open the 2018 season against America's team and close it against a team that owned them last year.

In between, there are two prime-time games (at Pittsburgh and home against the New Orleans Saints), an early bye and an October matchup against the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are five things to know about the Panthers' schedule, which was released Thursday night with the rest of the NFL slate:

1. Finally, a home opener.

When the Dallas Cowboys come to Charlotte on Sept. 9, it will mark the Panthers' first home opener since 2013. Opening on the road has become something of a sore spot for Panthers coach Ron Rivera, most notably two years ago when Carolina went to Denver for a Week 1 rematch of Super Bowl 50.

The 2013 loss to Seattle in Week 1 is the only other time the Panthers have opened at home under Rivera, who is 3-4 in opening games.

The Cowboys, who missed the playoffs last season, will be on the road in Week 1 for the first time since 2012. The Panthers are 0-5 at home against Dallas during the regular season, although they have two home playoff wins against the Cowboys, beginning with a divisional-round victory after the 1996 season.

2. A long wait to try to exact revenge.

The Saints had their way with Carolina in 2017, sweeping the regular-season set and then knocking the Panthers out of the playoffs with a 31-26 wild-card victory at the Superdome. The postseason win prompted the Times-Picayune to roll out a front-page headline the next day that read: "The Panthers already have a new owner: The New Orleans Saints."

If any Panthers' players or coaches clipped that article for bulletin-board material, the pages might yellow a bit before the Panthers and Saints square off in 2018. The teams won't face each other until December, when they meet twice in a three-week span.

Carolina hosts Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Co. in a Monday night game in Week 15 before wrapping up the regular season in New Orleans on Dec. 30.

3. Staying close to home.

Two years after stockpiling a bunch of frequent-flier miles with several West Coast games, the schedule-makers saved the Panthers' next owner some money on chartered planes. With the Panthers facing the NFC East and AFC North, they do not have many far-flung excursions.

For the first time in team history, the longest trip will be to New Orleans, according to the Panthers. More fun with math: The approximate 4,060 miles traveled for the eight regular-season road games represent the lowest single-season total in franchise history.

Not all the news was good. There is the potential for some crummy weather when the Panthers meet the Browns in Cleveland on Dec. 9.

4. Week off comes early. 

After having a late bye in 2017, the Panthers' bye falls in Week 4 this season. That's the earliest possible week for it.

The Panthers return to action Oct. 7 with a home game against the New York Giants and former general manager Dave Gettleman, who was fired by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson last summer a week before training camp. The Giants' game starts a three-game stretch against NFC East opponents, which includes back-to-back road games at Washington (hello, Josh Norman!) and Philadelphia.

Carolina will be facing the reigning Super Bowl champ for the third year in a row. The Panthers lost to Denver in 2016 and beat New England in Foxborough last season.

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, suspended for the first four games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, will be eligible to return for the Oct. 14 game at Washington.

5. A sneaky tough, three-game stretch in November.

The two December games against New Orleans — sandwiched around a home game vs. Atlanta — will likely go a long way toward deciding the NFC South . But the Panthers face another challenging three-game stretch a month earlier, beginning with a Thursday night game at Pittsburgh on Nov. 8.

The Steelers, who went 13-3 last season, have never lost at home to Carolina.

The Panthers then go to Detroit before returning home against Seattle — two teams that finished 9-7 last season.

For teams in different divisions and on opposite sides of the country, the Panthers and Seahawks have had an interesting history. This year's game over Thanksgiving weekend will be their 10th meeting since 2010, including a pair of playoff games.