Should we really be worried about the Strength of Schedule?

Ok, let's get something out of the way here. The Panthers win against the Cards on Sunday.

If you're a real fan, you have to believe that. Not only are the Cards just as pathetic as the Cats, but there are a few more elements at play.

  • We've got the home field.
  • We remember our last playoff game.
  • We've got a team that's still playing hard.
  • We've got a coach who really wants to win a game so he doesn't have to share the "Worst team ever" title with Seiffert.
  • They're a west coast team playing at 1:00 on Sunday

And we've got the first overall pick at risk, which in this season means we have to win. After all, we're losing at everything we try, why not lose at the draft too?

So whether or not you want the Panthers to win, if you're up on the trends you almost have to predict one on Sunday.  And if we do win, the big loss is that Cincinnatti also has two wins, which means that the tiebreaker for the top pick in the 2011 draft is determined by Strength of Schedule.

After week 13, the Bengals' opponents had a combined 122 wins, while the Panthers' had a combined 123. And that means, of course, that if they were tied and the season ended after 13, the Bengals would get the top pick.

But there are still three games left to play, and a lot can change between now and the end of the regular season.

The first thing to look at is each team's opponents. Here a they are, with each opponent's win total as of week 14.

Cincinnatti   Carolina
New England 11   New York Giants 9
Baltimore 9   Tampa Bay 8
Carolina 1   Cincinnatti 2
Cleveland 5   New Orleans 10
Tampa Bay 8   Chicago 9
Atlanta 11   San Fransisco 5
Miami 7   Saint Louis 6
Pittsburgh 10   New Orleans 10
Indianapolis 7   Tampa Bay 8
Buffalo 3   Baltimore 9
New York Jets 9   Cleveland 5
New Orleans 10   Seattle 6
Pittsburgh 10   Atlanta 11
Cleveland 5   Arizona 4
San Diego 7   Pittsburgh 10
Baltimore 9   Atlanta 11
Total Wins 122   123


Based on this, the Panthers opponents are oh-so-slightly better.  So again, if the season ended today, AND if the Panthers had 2 wins, the Bengals would own the number one overall pick.

But let's look at who the opponents are, and make a few guesses regarding how the season will play out.

  • Arizona has four wins. And with games at Carolina, at Seattle, and a home one against the surging Cowboys that's all they're going to get. 
  • The Atlanta Falcons are all set to depress the Panther faithful this year. They've already got eleven, which is bad enough, but they get to go to Seattle, host New Orleans, and then host Carolina to close out the year. Can you believe fourteen wins for the dirty birds? Ugh! 
  • The Baltimore Ravens have an easy finish to try and add to their nine wins. They get New Orleans at home, but then get to beat up on Cleveland and Cincinnatti. Pick the Ravens at home this weekend, and watch then finish with 12 Ws. 
  • Buffalo has three wins. And with games at Miami and New York, coupled with hosting the Patriots, they're likely to stay at three wins. 
  • Carolina has one, but gets their second and final win this year this Sunday. 
  • Chicago leads the NFC North with nine wins. They've got to play Minnesota Sunday, then they get the Jets at home and the Packers in Green Bay. They should get two of those, and eleven wins the division. 
  • Cincinnatti has two, and will stay at two. They're as bad as the Panthers this year. 
  • Cleveland sits at five wins, and they still have to play Baltimore and Pittsburgh again. But since this entire analysis assumes that Cincinnatti finishes with two, they'll have to wind up with six on the year. 
  • Indianapolis has had a disappointing year, notching just seven wins to date. They get the Jags at home Sunday, and then go to Oakland before finishing out the year at home again against the Titans. No way does Manning let them finish with less than a winning record. Nine wins may not be great in Manning land, but it's a good call for 2010. 
  • Miami has seven wins. They host Detroit and Buffalo before closing out in New England. It looks good for another 9-7 record for them. 
  • The New England Patriots have eleven wins and a schedule that looks good for winning out. They're hosting a Rodgers-less Green Bay, heading to Buffalo, and finishing with Miami in Foxboro. Call it another 14 win season. 
  • New Orleans has had a good year so far with ten wins, but they've got a killer finish. After going to Baltimore, they head to Atlanta before closing out the season at home against Tampa Bay. Much as I hate to predict good things for the Falcons, I see New Orleans as finishing with just one more win, giving them eleven. 
  • The New York Giants are probably the toughest team to call. They've got a huge game against the Eagles Sunday, but then have to go to Green Bay and Washington to finish out the year. Based on their recent level of play, two of those three games should be wins, but it's still a hard call. 
  • The New York Jets sit at nine wins. And with games at Pittsburgh and at Chicago, they're probably looking at finishing out the season beating up the Bills to go to ten wins on the year. 
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the AFC North with ten wins, and should pile them on with home games against the Jets and Panthers and a visit to Cleveland. Thirteen wins will bring the division title back to Pittsburgh. 
  • St. Louis has a surprising six wins and is in contention for the NFC West title. They have to host Kansas City Sunday, but then they get to play the 49ers at home before finishing out in Seattle. It's going to be tough for them to get two, but one is in reach. Seven wins is a good call for their season. 
  • The San Diego Chargers had seven wins at the end of week 13, but in typical fashion they're finishing strong. They took their eighth against the 49ers on Thursday night. Now they just have to win in Cincinnati and Denver. Expect ten wins for the Chargers when it's all said and done. 
  • The San Fransisco 49ers are so bad, they lost to the Panthers. No, really! They ended week 13 with five wins, and they've already lost to the Chargers. They go to St. Louis next week to get their 10th loss, but should finish on a high note against the Cards. Six wins for Singletary. 
  • Seattle has six wins, but they also have to play Atlanta this week, then head to Tampa Bay. A final against the Rams should be good for one more win, but I can't see them finishing with more than that. Seven wins at the close. 
  • Tampa Bay is the light at the end of the Panthers' tunnel. Last years joke of a team already has eight wins, and they still get Detroit and Seattle at home. I don't see them beating the Saints in week 16, but they'll add two wins to their current total, giving them ten to finish the year. I'll take that in Carolina in 2011.

And there you have it, a lot of educated guessing about how the season turns out.

The good news is that Pittsburgh and Baltimore don't play each other again, but the Saints and the Falcons do. That gives the Bengals opponents have two more potential wins that aren't even possible for the Carolina SOS equation. In general, Carolina's opponents seem to have a tougher go of it.

So plug in the projections, and you get a pretty different result from that at the end of week 14.

Cincinnatti   Carolina
New England 14   New York Giants 11
Baltimore 12   Tampa Bay 10
Carolina 2   Cincinnatti 2
Cleveland 6   New Orleans 11
Tampa Bay 10   Chicago 11
Atlanta 14   San Fransisco 6
Miami 9   Saint Louis 7
Pittsburgh 13   New Orleans 11
Indianapolis 10   Tampa Bay 10
Buffalo 3   Baltimore 12
New York Jets 10   Cleveland 6
New Orleans 11   Seattle 7
Pittsburgh 13   Atlanta 14
Cleveland 6   Arizona 4
San Diego 10   Pittsburgh 13
Baltimore 12   Atlanta 14
Total Wins 155   149


Advantage: Carolina.  And it's not looking like there will be a ton of wiggle room there.

Go ahead and root for the Panthers this Sunday. Then start the draft speculation, because unless we pull off a miracle in Pittsburgh or Atlanta, we've got the top pick in April.

After all, it's about time for some Luck in Charlotte, isn't it?

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