March 20, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera answers questions from reporters during the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers Face NFL's Toughest Schedule for 2013

Good news and bad news for Carolina Panthers fans. The bad news is the Panthers have the NFL’s hardest schedule if you look at their 2013 opponents’ cumulative records for 2012.

The good news?

Free Agency changes the make-up of teams today more than ever, so there’s that. Small consolation I know – especially for a 7-9 team.

The entire schedule strength can be found here. The official schedule has yet to be released, but the teams they face are known.

I’m sorry, but the NFL probably needs to do something about the way they currently schedule teams. Of course, playing teams within one’s division twice per season in a home-and-away format should remain intact, but ever since they went to scheduling particular divisions against each other, the SOS (Strength of Schedule) matchups simply aren’t fair, and if there’s any catch-phrase overused today in many arenas even outside of sports, it’s the term “fairness.”

The NFL Draft is supposed to be a “great equalizer” in that the team finishing with the worst record gets the top pick and the Super Bowl winner gets the last pick. That much has been going on since the league began, and continued to this day after the NFL-AFL merger.

If the league is SO interested in “fairness,” then why are the 7-9 Carolina Panthers facing a 16-game 2013 schedule where their opponents have a .543 winning percentage while the playoff-bound, division-winning Denver Broncos have the easiest SOS at a paltry .430?

Other than the 6 division games, the Panthers play the following teams:

@Arizona Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks
New York Jets
New England Patriots
St. Louis Rams
New York Giants
@Buffalo Bills
@San Francisco 49’ers
@Miami Dolphins
@Minnesota Vikings

There are four different playoff teams in this list: Seattle, San Francisco, New England, and Minnesota. The Dolphins appear to be much-improved over last season, and the Giants are always a tough opponent. Arizona’s defense is top-ten and the Rams are on the upswing.

Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers will have a very tough road to the playoffs in 2013 but the OTHER “good news” is that if they do somehow make it in, they’ll be battle-tested and probably “that team” that nobody wants to play as a result.

Think of a college team playing an SEC schedule. There’s a reason the SEC has won the last 147 consecutive national championships – their opponent for the title game is just like playing another conference game.

In the NFL, with teams making moves in the offseason, sometimes those “SOS” records can be misleading, but usually the teams that make the playoffs but don’t win the Super Bowl try to improve to “get over the hump” and win a championship. That’s always the plan, anyway, and is also why the Broncos added WR Wes Welker, for instance.

The NFL normally releases their fall schedules a week before the draft, but not this year, apparently. The actual schedules should be out within a week, since teams do like to know who they’re going to be playing before they make their draft picks. It probably doesn’t alter their ideas about whom they want to choose that much, but could possibly influence it especially in the latter rounds when any particular team might be torn between, say, a WR and a CB in the 6th or 7th round, but won’t make much difference at all on day one.

As far as the scheduling process itself, giving a team like the Denver Broncos the gift of an easy schedule might be welcome news to John Elway and Peyton Manning, but “fairness” certainly doesn’t enter the equation at all!

Time to go back to the drawing board on this one, I think!

Update: NFL to announce team schedules Thursday night at 8 pm.

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