Panthers Run at History?

Sitting at 11-0, can Carolina run the table?

by Brandon D. Rush | @BrandonRush | Brandon@3PSMag.com

A year removed from making the playoffs with a losing record, the Carolina Panthers season appeared to be doomed before it began, now they remain the NFL’s lone undefeated team and have a shot at replicating something that hasn’t happened in over 40 years.

In 2014 Carolina slugged their way to a 7-8-1 regular season record winning the NFC South division, earning them a right to host a Wild Card playoff game against Arizona. After the opening round win Carolina lost the following weekend to eventual NFC Champion Seattle, and many thought the Panthers were overachieving by getting that far. Veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr, who had spent his entire 13-year career with the Panthers left for Baltimore, leaving a depleted pass catching corps featuring Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, and rookie Kelvin Benjamin along side Pro-Bowl tight end Greg Olsen. Quarterback Cam Newton missed time due to injuries sustained in an auto accident late in the year, and they still made the second round.

Fast forward to the offseason that saw Panthers head coach Ron Rivera’s home catch fire, rid themselved of the Greg Hardy debacle, lose DeAngelo Williams to free agency, Benjamin blow his ACL in the preseason, and stud linebacker Luke Kuechly miss a month with a concussion. With all those distractions, Carolina has sprinted out to their best start in franchise history including the longest winning streak in Panthers history.

Cam Newton has been MVP caliber despite no clear number one wide out, and that defense has been stellar with Kuechly, emerging star cornerback Josh Norman, rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson, and lineman Star Lotulelei.

So looking ahead, can they run the table to finish 16-0, and be the first superbowl champion to go undefeated since the 1972 Miami Dolphins? Sure. Will they? Maybe.

The final five weeks of the regular season see Carolina play four games in the division face, go on the road three times, and will only face one team with a winning record (Atlanta who they will face twice).

  • 12/6 – at New Orleans – Saints have been in a tailspin all season, this would be the most surprising loss of the remaining five games.
  • 12/13 – vs Atlanta – The Falcons hot start has been wiped out by a poor stretch that has seen them lose five of their last six games.
  • 12/20 – at New York Giants – IF the Panthers are going to lose one, this could be it. You never know what to expect from Eli & company.
  • 12/27 – at Atlanta – If the Falcons are out of playoff contention, don’t be shocked if they sit Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and DeVonta Freeman.
  • 1/3 – vs Tampa Bay – The Bucs have been hot as the tempatures have cooled, but they could be out of the running for the Wild Card spot by then.

Completely feasible, but the playoffs are another animal alltogether.

Some are not believers in what the Panthers have done so far, and are not overly optimistic about their chances down the road. According to FiveThrityEight.com, statistically speaking, Carolina is the worst 11-0 team in NFL history (WARNING: Math and Statistical analysis ahead).

Among the 11-0 club’s dozen members, only the 2009 Indianapolis Colts and 1969 Los Angeles Rams had lower per-game scoring margins than the 2015 Panthers. Further, the Panthers have piled up the wins against a schedule rated as the league’s second-weakest by Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS). According to SRS, only two of the Panthers’ opponents thus far have been above-average teams: the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

Add in the fact that Carolina wasn’t expected to be anything special before the season began, and it isn’t hard to see why our Elo ratings2still doubtthat the Panthers are even the NFL’s best team this season. By Elo, the 2015 Panthers are the worst team of the Super Bowl era to start a season 11-0:

THROUGH 11 GAMES
YEAR TEAM ELO OPP. ELO PPG OPP. PPG FINAL W-L
2007 New England 1806 1537 40.2 16.8 16-0
1998 Denver 1773 1485 33.6 17.3 14-2
2011 Green Bay 1772 1471 34.7 20.6 15-1
2005 Indianapolis 1772 1488 30.0 14.5 14-2
1984 Miami 1754 1477 32.7 14.9 14-2
1991 Washington 1740 1513 32.8 12.6 14-2
2009 Indianapolis 1735 1500 27.6 16.7 14-2
1985 Chicago 1732 1492 29.4 11.6 15-1
1969 Los Angeles 1730 1472 27.3 16.5 11-3
2009 New Orleans 1727 1507 37.0 20.1 13-3
1972 Miami 1712 1458 28.1 12.5 14-0
2015 Carolina 1689 1475 30.2 18.6

Elo assigns Carolina a rating that implies it would win about 11.5 games against an average slate of 16 randomly drawn opponents. That’s quite good — in terms of true talent, it’s better than about 93 percent of teams under the current structure of the NFL. But going into this season, the average historical 11-0 team had the talent to win 12.5 games against the same kind of schedule. In other words, the 2015 Panthers are missing a whole win of talent compared with their 11-0 peers. And a win of talent goes a long way — according to Elo, it’s roughly the difference between Carolina and the 6-5 Kansas City Chiefs.

I’m no math nerd or Sabermetrics guru, but there is some validity to these numbers. Carolina has again exploited a weak division, have reaped the rewards of an MVP caliber season, and are winning ugly.

16-0 is nice, but a loss in January can ruin it all.

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