The Playoffs in ’08? It’s All in the Numbers!


Question:  What does a team receive in return for back-to-back non-winning seasons?  Answer: An opening day road trip to the west coast to play a team that has 25 regular season wins and a conference championship game appearance in the last two seasons.

Talk about not getting the benefit of a losing record!  Whatever happened to playing an easier schedule due to lack of wins the season before?

These are the cards our Carolina Panthers have been dealt.  Now they have to play the hand.  Folding isn’t an option.  It’s time to go all in.

That’s a tough beginning on the road to what the team has to be hoping will be a return to prominence but luckily things get easier after that.  The team’s next four games are against opponents that failed to make the playoffs in 2007 – three of them (Chicago, Atlanta and Kansas City) didn’t even come close with only 15 wins combined.  The other game is versus Minnesota who missed the playoffs yet are considered an up-and-coming team.  Still, those should all be very winnable games.

The Panthers will face thirteen different opponents in 2008.  Of those teams, only four made the playoffs last year while only three had ten wins or more.  Those playoff teams are the only opponents Carolina will face in ’08 that had winning records leaving nine teams on the schedule with .500 records or worse.

Another telling statistic – three different teams on the slate next year had only four wins in ’07 (Atlanta – who the Panthers will face twice, Kansas City and Oakland).  Also, our team from the Queen City will face seven different opponents that posted losing seasons last year.

The schedule might start off with a tough game on the west coast but it’s chock full of winnable games.  This begged a question – how many games will the Panthers need to win to make the playoffs?

I looked it up.

Since the 2000 season, 3 NFC teams have won their divisions with a 9-7 record, 4 teams have made the playoffs as a wild card with 9 wins and 2 teams qualified for the postseason as wild cards with 8-8 records.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we will only need 8 or 9 wins to make it to the second season.  To the contrary.  In all likelihood, the team will be mixed up in a race for the division crown until late in the season with potential playoff teams Tampa Bay and New Orleans.

Winning within the division will be critical and the damage that these teams do to each other will also be a major portion of the playoff equation.  If they continually beat up on each other and the NFC South comes down to another typical 9-7 division winner, it’s highly unlikely that more than one team will make the postseason.

This may be a bit premature but this schedule doesn’t look that tough.  In fact, there are thirteen beatable teams and if the Panthers wins 8 of those, pull an upset against the Giants, Chargers or Packers, the playoffs won’t be far out of their reach.

No, I don’t think it’s time to make a prediction for this coming season but it sure is nice to look ahead and see what this schedule could mean – a playoff trip.  It’s nice to dream, even if it is too early.