Panthers schedule offers interesting storylines

For the second straight year, the Panthers will host the Green Bay Packers on ABC's Monday Night Football. A date with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and a season-opening contest against NFC South rival New Orleans, both home games, also help highlight a demanding and intriguing 2005 schedule announced Wednesday by the NFL.

There will be plenty of interesting storylines for this season for the Panthers, beginning in week one against New Orleans.

On Sept. 11, the Panthers hope to gain revenge on the Saints, who came into Bank of America Stadium and beat Carolina 21-18 in last year's regular season finale to prevent the Panthers from becoming the first NFL team to start the season 1-7 and reach the playoffs. Had the Panthers won that game, they would have finished 8-8 and qualified for the NFC playoffs as a wild card.

In week two, the Panthers host the Patriots, whom they lost to 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Expect a lot to be made of the Panthers' recent steroid scandal the week of that game, especially since three Carolina players were recently named as having purchasing performance-enhancing substances two weeks before the big game on Feb. 1, 2004.

After a road trip to Miami, the Panthers return home to host the Packers on Oct. 3 in a rematch of last year's season opener, which Carolina lost 24-14 and in which Smith, their explosive receiver, suffered a season-ending broken leg.

That defeat seemed to set the tone for the season as the Panthers finished the season with more than a dozen players on injured reserve, including several key stars.

The game against Green Bay is the only nationally televised game for the Panthers this season.

Five of Carolina's eight home games are against teams that made the playoffs last year with Atlanta, Minnesota and the New York Jets advancing to the postseason as well as Green Bay and New England.

Even the games against non-playoff teams are attractive with Panthers to host NFC rival Tampa Bay on Dec. 11 and the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Eve. The other is the season opener against New Orleans.

As was the case in 2004, the majority of Carolina's divisional games come late in the season with four NFC South games in the last five weeks of the campaign.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "With the teams we are playing, it was going to be a demanding schedule regardless of the order. From the time we learned our opponents, we knew this would be a challenging schedule. Getting off to a good start is always important, and we will be facing some very good competition. It should be exciting for everyone involved." -- Panthers head coach John Fox.

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