--The Panthers may be feeling a little slighted by the NFL schedule makers after being given only one appearance next season on ABC's Monday Night Football despite reaching the Super Bowl last season. The NFL released the 2004 schedule on Wednesday and aside from their season opener at Bank of America Stadium against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football, the Panthers will make only one other appearance on the national stage, that coming on a special Saturday night ESPN game on Dec. 18 against Michael Vick the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
By comparison, the Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles - the three teams the Panthers defeated in the NFC playoffs last season to reach the Super Bowl - will each make three appearances on Monday Night Football.
That's perhaps a reflection that some around the league wonder if the Panthers are a one-hit wonder. Or, it could simply be a reflection on the fact that Charlotte ranks 27th among the 32 teams in terms of television market size. Either way, it's an oddity considering the previous season's Super Bowl representatives - Tampa Bay and Oakland - each appeared three times on Monday Night Football last season.
Along with Dallas, St. Louis and Philadelphia, the Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs will also appear three times on Monday Night Football, while the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will play twice.
The Panthers will be tested early in 2004.
Five of their first seven games come against playoff teams from last season.
Unlike last season when the Panthers played most of their divisional games in the first half of the season, this year the Panthers close the season with five of their final six games coming against NFC South foes. The home game against the Falcons on Oct. 3 marks Carolina's only game against an NFC South opponent in the first 10 weeks of the season.
Carolina started last season by winning its first five divisional games, propelling them to their first division title since 1996.
"We knew it was going to be a challenging schedule," Panthers coach John Fox said. "We are excited to be opening the Monday Night schedule at home and the second half of the schedule is going to go a long way in determining our finish within the division. Receiving the schedule always creates a sense of urgency, and that is certainly the case when you look at the teams we play early."
The NFL announced two weeks ago at the league meetings that the Panthers would open the season on Monday Night Football, so the news that the team would make only one more appearance on national television came as a disappointment for many fans.
Among the highlights of this year's schedule will be an Oct. 17 rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Panthers defeated the Eagles last year in the NFC Championship game. Another intriguing game will be Dec. 12 when the Panthers play host to the Rams nearly a year after Carolina won a dramatic double overtime contest at St. Louis.
For the second straight year, the Panthers were given an early bye week, that coming the third week of the season. However, that worked out last year for the Panthers as they won 12 of 18 games after the bye following a 2-0 start.