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Blowout losses to New York, heart-shattering late defeats to Atlanta and Seattle-- it's enough to drive a fan crazy. However, it may not all be sky-falling and tiny violins for the 2012 Carolina Panthers.
Are advanced metrics a better way to understand football, or merely an over-complication of a rather simple topic? One can dive into splits, win shares, and DVOA until their heart's content, but without wins it's all meaningless. Yes, wins are what matters, and at 1-4 there's no doubt the Carolina Panthers are lacking what's needed to be an elite NFL team, but that doesn't mean they're as terrible as the record shows.
Football Outsiders released their week six DVOA rankings, and the Panthers improved to 22nd in the NFL. This is one of the great things about the metric, it remains malleable throughout the year and can improve a team's standing even when they have a bye week. Ostensibly what happened is that the Giants, Seahawks, and Buccaneers all proved they were better teams that first thought, and as such the Panthers become better by osmosis.
As it stands the Panthers are the best one-win team in the NFL by DVOA. Their nearest competition are the New Orleans Saints, ranked 24th. Their overall DVOA also makes them better than two teams with two wins (Indianapolis and Tennessee), and three teams who have three wins (Cincinnati, San Diego, and Buffalo). Does this mean anything? Perhaps not in the scheme of things, but it does show the Panthers are better than their record shows this season.
Are the Carolina Panthers making any progress, despite their 1-4 record? Yes, and no.
- Offense: -3.8% DVOA, 19th in the NFL (2011: +23.0%, 4th in the NFL)
- Defense: +4.9% DVOA, 20th in the NFL (2011: +20.1%, 32nd in the NFL)
- Special Teams: -2.7% DVOA, 23rd in the NFL (2011: -5.4%, 32nd in the NFL)
Now we get to the crux of the issue. Sean McDermott has done his job, and his unit has improved. Brian Murphy has done his job, and his unit has improved. Unsurprisingly, Rob Chudzinkski has not-- and the offense has free-fallen in 2012. The offense is still the best of the Panthers three units, but if they had a similar DVOA to last year, it's likely this is a 4-1 team, not 1-4. That being said, 2/3 units improved isn't bad.
There's more positivism to come! What we see through DVOA is that the Carolina Panthers faced the second most difficult schedule in the NFL up to this point. Their 12.7% DVOA against is bested only by the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina's next opponent, who had a stunning DVOA against of 21.6%.
The good news: It gets better from here.
The bad news: Dallas are a lot better than their record shows too.
Moving forward life gets considerably easier for the Panthers. Their remaining schedule drops to a DVOA of -2.3%, or 17th in the NFL. Not easy by any means, but considerably better than the start to the year.