The Carolina Panthers' 2012 season will go down as one of the most befuddling, baffling and head scratching in team history. It's not just the poor execution on the field--the missed tackles and high throws. It's also the stuff outside of the players' control. How else do you explain losing 13 consecutive coin tosses, something that mathematically only happens once in 4,000 times?
The Panthers have made a habit of defying odds this season--but in a bad way. Look at about every game and you'll see something that will make you shake your head and say, "Huh? Was that a fluke, or what?"
In the Atlanta, Chicago and Tampa games the Panthers rolled over in the last minutes and victory was ripped from the team's grasp. The odds were so stacked against those three teams that it was just uncanny for the Panthers to lose all three. It would be laughable if it didn't hurt so much.
Are the Panthers cursed? Are they a team that should have been good, but because of bad luck have not been able to pull out the tough wins? Or, is it perhaps a coaching philosophy that is failing the team.
Carolina, despite its terrible 3-8 record, is ranked fourth in the NFL in efficiency according to Advanced NFL Stats. Who are the three teams ahead of them? Denver, San Francisco and Houston--all three legit Super Bowl contenders. It seems strange that the Panthers would be included in the same breath as those other three teams. But they have proven that they can play with just about any team in the NFL. In fact, they could be just a coin toss away from a winning record.
That's a possibility, but likely there's something else going on, something deeper and systemic in the organization. Two weeks ago, Advanced NFL Stats made this observation as to why Carolina had such a high efficiency ranking. Carolina, it seemed, was not the only team in recent years to have a high efficiency ranking while carrying a mediocre to bad record. San Diego in 2009-2010 with then assistant coaches Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski, appeared as a statistical
anomaly in the efficiency rankings. Their talent was as good as any team in the NFL, they ranked near the top in both offense and defense, and yet they continually found ways to lose games. The blogger at Advanced NFL Stats put it succinctly:
"I am not saying the model is the true measure of a team and therefore any significant deviations are statistical flukes. I'm suggesting the opposite. There are significant factors not captured by the model, and one of those factors is Panthers head coach and former Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. Admittedly I don't follow the Panther's from play to play and game to game, so I won't jump to conclusions. But to those out there who do follow Carolina, please tell me why he should be kept on as the head coach."
That, my friend, is the million dollar question moving forward. Is Ron Rivera the victim of statistically rare and unfortunate circumstances, or is he just a hack? Rivera's San Diego days could be blamed on head coach Norv Turner. However, it is strikingly ironic that Rivera was defensive coordinator there, and now is a head coach at Carolina. And Chuds was assistant head coach in San Diego and offensive coordinator here. The San Diego mindset seemed to have followed Rivera for California to North Carolina like a black cloud.
At this point in his head coaching career, it may take more than just a stroke of luck to get the Panthers back on track for a Super Bowl. It may require a new coaching philosophy, and new coaches, to set the team up so that fortune can finally find this seemingly cursed organization.