Carolina Panthers Schedule Preview: AFC North


The Carolina Panthers draw the two North divisions this year on their schedule. Today we will look at the AFC North, and then tomorrow we will look at the NFC North. The AFC North Division comprises the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens.

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Pittsburgh Steelers

Date: 9/21
Location: Bank of America Stadium

There was a reason that the fourth preseason game between the Panthers and Steelers was blander than normal. That reason was that they were playing each other again within a month. Neither team wanted to show too much to the other team.

The Steelers prefer to be a balanced team led by the run, but over the past few years it has been the Ben Roethlisberger show in Pittsburgh. While this has produced a big money contract for Dolphins wideout Mike Wallace, the Steelers have kept looking for the back to replace Rashard Mendenhall. This year it will be the turn of LaGarrette Blount and LeVeon Bell.

Hampering the Steelers running efforts is an aging offensive line, something the Panthers defensive line should be certain to take advantage of. It will be their job to get to Roeethlisberger. The secondary is still unproven, and Roethlisberger has a knack for making something out of nothing.
On offense the Panthers should definitely try to ram the ball down the Steelers throats. Their defensive line has been injured in the preseason. Running the ball with the ‘Four Horsemen’ also prevents the young line from having to do too much pass protection, which is where the 3-4 zone blitz scheme of the Steelers is theoretically strongest. I say theoretically because the Steelers linebacking corps was not overly impressive last year.

Aug 23, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) gains yardage after his catch against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens

Date: 9/28
Location: M & T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, MD)

The Ravens were in the Super Bowl not long ago, and their offense at least looks like the unit that got them there. Ray Rice will be in the backfield, his two game suspension over by that point. Joe Flacco, the best player in football (according to Flacco), will be zipping the ball looking for the two Smiths, Torrey and Steve Sr.

Steve Smith is the wild card here. With Flacco’s arm and our secondary still a little of an unknown, Smith could very well carry out the kind of game he had talked of since the Panthers released him. That puts a lot of pressure on the Panthers defense line to keep Flacco from finding Smith or Torrey Smith.

On offense, Cam Newton and the Panthers should again rely on the run to keep Terrell Suggs and the Ravens pass rush honest. The Baltimore secondary has a better reputation than the Panthers receiving corps, so there might be a lot of Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson in this game.

Cincinnati Bengals

Date: 10/12
Location: Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati, OH)

The Bengals were a playoff team last year and they have one of the best deep threats in the league in AJ Green. They also have an up and coming running back in Gio Bernard. That gives the Bengals an element of balance that was missing from the Steelers and Ravens last year. The Panthers, probably Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, will have to shut down Bernard first. Then Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy can turn loose on Andy Dalton. If Dalton can be forced to turn gunslinger, he will make mistakes.

The Bengals defense was well respected last year and their coordinator Mike Zimmer became the coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Zimmer is gone, but the pieces he left in place are still there. This means the Panthers will have to grind it out and look for Cam Newton to make a special play if nothing else works. This should be another work day for the tight ends.

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AFC North Power Rankings: Browns, Ravens, and Bengals making playoff push
AFC North Power Rankings: Browns, Ravens, and Bengals making playoff push /

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  • Cleveland Browns

    Date: 12/21
    Location: Bank of America Stadium

    All I want for Christmas is Johnny Football? That may well be the case for the Panthers as the Browns represent the easiest game on their schedule and they are coming when the Panthers may be in the late stages of a playoff push.

    Cleveland is currently a mess with no settled quarterback and their top receiver lost for the year on a marijuana suspension. Throw in a new coach and a new system and it will be a long year for the Browns. Hopefully the Panthers can make it a little longer. The Panthers finish the next week with Atlanta.

    Tomorrow we will cover the NFC North squads that are on the Carolina Panthers schedule this year.

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