Bill Barnwell of Grantland has been examining pro football teams in advance of the coming season. He seems to be in the NFC South right now where he predicts a Falcons resurgence, but he also predicts a big step backward for the Panthers.
The article did little more than infuriate me while I was reading it. I knew all the things that Barnwell would say. Meager off season. New offensive line. Harder schedule. Wins coming from close games. I kept looking for something different, something I didn’t know. Something that my optimism had not already accounted for. I didn’t find it.
The one thing I did learn is that the press is very divided about former Panthers GM Marty Hurney. Some people believe the current Panthers success is directly attributable to Hurney. Those people point to Cam Newton, Ryan Kalil, and Luke Kuechly. Barnwell is on the other side, noting that Hurney messed up the Panthers cap so that new GM Dave Gettleman is really hampered in what he can do.
Barnwell completely bashed the Panthers WR corps. I once did that too, but the inner fan in me had sort of won out. I mean Jerricho Cotchery had been good with the Jets. I once destroyed people in NCAA Football 2006 with Jason Avant on Michigan. Ed Dickson is doing his best Shockey imitation. Kelvin Benjamin will save us all. Barnwell’s words quietly reminded me that fans have rose colored glasses. Those are glasses I take off when I write, such as my piece on Benjamin here.
Going through the rest of Barnwell’s article, I realized that the truth was simpler than Barnwell’s analysis. The truth was in the Carolina Panthers schedule. The games. The Panthers don’t play in a vacuum. Whether the Panthers were perceived to go backwards or forwards was somewhat out of their hands. This is the Panthers schedule:
Sun 9/7 @ Tampa Bay
Sun 9/14 Detroit
Sun 9/21 Pittsburgh
Sun 9/28 @ Baltimore
Sun 10/5 Chicago
Sun 10/12 @ Cincinnati
Sun 10/19 @ Green Bay
Sun 10/26 Seattle
Thu 10/30 New Orleans
Mon 11/10 @ Philadelphia
Sun 11/16 Atlanta
Sun 11/30 @ Minnesota
Sun 12/7 @ New Orleans
Sun 12/14 Tampa Bay
Sun 12/21 Cleveland
Sun 12/28 @ Atlanta
The idea is simple. Barnwell did not identify a number of potential Panthers wins. Therefore any number smaller than 12 would be a step back. However are there 10 wins on the schedule? That is the number that Barnwell believed the Panthers should have won the last two seasons. Less than 10 would mean Barnwell was right. 10 or 11 would mean that Barnwell would technically still be right, but would fit the average Panthers optimistic mindset as well.
So can we get to 10? Well, I am going to assume a straight division split. 3-3 in the division. Tampa is supposed be a little better, and we play them in Tampa week 1 when they will be fired up.
The next game that can be listed as a win would be Cleveland. Now we are at four.
Then the Panthers play a series of toss up games. That would be against Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, at Minnesota, and at Cincinnati. For the sake of argument, I will give the Panthers a 3-2 record in those matchups. That gets the Panthers to 7 wins.
Finally there are the matchups that the Panthers will be underdogs in. That would be at Baltimore, at Green Bay, at Philadelphia, and Seattle at home. I will say one upset in there somewhere. That means that the Panthers would only be estimated to pick up 8 wins based on the 3rd strongest schedule in the league.
Yuck. Barnwell looks to have been right. Now if the Panthers win all the toss up games, that would put them at 10 which is where they need to be. However, this is why they are called toss up games. We may be in for a grind this season.