Carolina Panthers Complete Playoff Seeding Analysis

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

For all you Carolina Panthers faithful out there,

You know that times have been tough being a Carolina Panthers fan. 49 playoff games featuring 25 different teams have been played since panthers played their last one. The last time the Panthers played a playoff game, President Bush was still in office. The last time the Panthers won a playoff game, you could send a telegraph through Western Union.

In the seasons from 2009-2013 the Carolina Panthers were a combined 3-13 in the first 4 and 13-35 in the first 12 games of the season, yet they were 10-6 in the last 4 after the games stopped counting. In these four seasons the panthers were either eliminated from or scratching for the slightest hope of the playoffs

This season seemed to start out the same way when the panthers started 1-3. At best the panthers were looking at a 6th seed in the playoffs if the right pieces fell into place, but more likely another losing season. Coaching on the hottest seat in the league, Ron Rivera took a trip up Mississippi River to try and cool off. With a few cards up his sleeve, Riverboat Ron was born, and he has since pushed the panthers to 9-3, right at the top of the league.

While in past years I have written about the crazy circumstances the panthers could make the playoffs, this year I finally get to write about how they will clinch a playoff slot.

Before I discuss how the Panthers can get into the playoffs here are some helpful resources

  • The NFL tiebreakers are listed here
  • The Current NFL standings are here

Winning the NFC South

The best way to make the playoffs is as a division winner because you are guaranteed at least one home playoff game and possibly even 2. If you are a wildcard there is a chance you might get to host a game as the 5 seed but this is unlikely as this would only be vs the 6 seed in the conference championship game.

As the Panthers are currently tied with the Saints at 9-3 with 2 games left to play against each other, the easiest way to win the division is to sweep the saints.

If the Panthers go 2-0 against the Saints they will win the division If the Saints go 2-0 against the Panthers, the Saints will win the division

This is because in either case the winning team will have the first tiebreaker and a 2 game lead over the other 2 games to be played

If the Panthers split the Saints then the other games will come into play.

If one team has a better record in the remaining games, They will be the NFC South Champion.

If both teams go 2-0 in the remaining games, the saints will win the division by virtue of a better in conference record

If both teams go 0-2 in the remaining games, The division winner will be the team with the better strength of victory. I am assuming that there will not be another tie this season, thus the vikings tie against the packers would prevent the tiebreaker going past SOV. In this strength of victory scenario, The teams factored into the panthers SOV are the Giants, Vikings, Rams, Patriots, and Buccaneers. The teams that factor into the Saints SOV are the Cardinals, Bears, Bills, Cowboys, Falcons. Right now among those teams the Saints hold a 1.5 game lead in SOV.

Otherwise if both teams split 1-1, and the Panthers lose to the Falcons and beat the Jets, NO wins the division

If the teams split 1-1 and the Panthers lose to the Jets, beat the Falcons, and the Saints lose to the Buccaneers, Car wins

If the teams split 1-1 Panthers lose to the Jets, beat the Falcons, and the Saints beat the Buccaneers, Then a different SOV tiebreaker will go into effect with all the teams from the previous tiebreaker, minus Atlanta and TB.

The team that wins the NFC South will most likley be the #2 seed. It is certain that the winner of the division will have at least 10 wins, but almost certainly more (only case would be Saints-Panthers split, then both lose out on remaining games). At 12 wins or more, the Saints or Panthers would be a lock at a bye given that the leaders in the other divisions (Cowboys and Eagles in the NFC East and the Lions in the NFC North) all have a cap of 11 wins this year. If the NFC South division winner goes 11-5 then one of the teams in the north or east can win out and claim the bye.

In the Carolina panthers case an 11-5 division win combined with one of the three aforementioned teams winning out would put them at a disadvantage in terms of the conference tiebreaker as all of those teams have preformed poorly against the AFC (thus a better in conference record at a tied overall record).

The reason the Panthers won't be the 1 seed is because they are by virtue of the H-H tiebreaker 2.5 games behind the Seahawks. The Seahawks would have to lose 3 of their remaining games to drop out of the 1 seed slot, which is not going to happen.

Wild Card Scenarios

Right now the panthers hold the 5 seed in the NFC. The only way they could lose that spot is if 2 non-division winners overtook them in the standings. The contenders to do this are:

San Francisco 49ers (8-4)

Philadelphia Eagles (7-5) / Dallas Cowboys (7-5) (one will win division)

Arizona Cardinals (7-5)

Detroit Lions (7-5) / Chicago Bears (6-6) (one will win the division)

Green Bay Packers (5-6-1)

Neither the Rams or the Giants (5-7) could overtake the panthers as at best, they can tie the panthers, in which case they would lose the H-H tiebreaker. There is the possibility that that a third team could disrupt the H-H tiebreaker in the case of the Giants but the realm of that possibility is beyond speculation at this point and is so unlikely that it is considered impossible in this posting.

If the Panthers finish 13-3, they will win the division

If the Panthers finish 12-4, they will at least make the playoffs as the #5 seeded Wildcard. This is because the only the 49ers could be a 12-4 wildcard, and the panthers own the tiebreaker.

If the Panthers finish 11-5, they will at least make the playoffs as a Wildcard, UNLESS the Seahawks lose 4 straight, the Cardinals win 4 straight, and the 49ers go 3-1 with the only loss to the Seahawks. This is all pure speculation and won't happen. Carolina is in at 11-5.

If the Panthers finish 10-6, then it becomes more interesting.

For the Panthers to miss the playoffs in this situation, 2 of the following must happen:

  1. 49ers finish 10-5-1 or better (H-H win)
  2. NFC East 2nd Place finishes 10-6 or better (only other possibility 10-5-1) (They would hold confrence record tiebreaker
  3. Cardinals finish 10-6 or better (H-H loss)

BUT, the Panthers would make the playoffs if 2 & 3 in the case both the 49ers and Cardinals finish 10-6. In that case the 49ers would be the 1st wild card candidate from the NFC West, and the panther hold the tiebreaker over the 49ers. There is an exception where the cardinals would be the 1st wild card candidate out of the NFC West if both teams finish 10-6. This is if the 49ers lose to the Seahawks and the Cardinals, but beat Tampa Bay and Atlanta AND the Cardinals specifically beat the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers, but lose to the Titans, then both teams will be 10-6 and the Cardinals would win the division tiebreaker (H-H: 1-1, Division: both 3-3, Common: 49ers 8-6, Cards 9-5) and the Panthers would miss the playoffs.

If the Panthers finish 9-7, they can still make the playoffs as a wildcard.
For the Panthers to miss the playoffs, 2 of the following must happen

  1. 49ers finish 10-6 or better
  2. Cardinals finish 9-7 or better
  3. NFC EAST 2nd Place finishes 9-7 or better
  4. NFC NORTH 2nd Place finishes 9-6-1 if Packers, 10-6 if Bears, and 9-7 or better if Lions

In 4, if the Lions are 2nd place, then they must hold the tiebreaker over the panthers, which could go as deep as SOV and SOS. If the Cardinals and 49ers both finish 9-7 and the 49ers win the division tiebreaker then both 3 and 4 must happen for the panthers to miss the playoffs.
I think I pretty much covered every scenario except for the 9-7 tiebreaker with Panthers and Lions and the 9-7 division tiebreaker with the Cardinals and 49ers. If you spot any errors or places to improve, just

What will happen

I predict that the Panthers will split with the Saints (right now the statistically most likely selection) and will win their other games. This would put the Panthers at the 5 seed where I believe they will go to the Eagles for the Wild Card round.

Let me know what you think

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