The Panthers 2013 schedule features teams with an overall winning percentage of .543 in 2012:
NFL releases team-by-team 2013 strength of schedule list - NFL.com
The Carolina Panthers have the toughest road to the Super Bowl based on the strength of their 2013 schedule. The Panthers will play teams in 2013 with a combined 138-116-2 record from last season as they look to improve on their 7-9 mark in 2012.
The Saints come in 3rd, the Falcons 15th and the Bucs 17th. So how can that be? Well, for starters the Falcons don't play another 13-3 team twice like we do (the Falcons, duh!). Hence the Saints being close behind at #3. You might recall the Panthers actually climbed to the #2 spot in the NFC South though all three teams tied at 7-9.
The Bucs finished in 4th and therefore got the better the schedule with their #4 seed match-up with the NFC East and NFC North. The Bucs therefore play the Eagles and Lions, two 4-12 teams in 2012 whereas the Panthers get the 9-7 Giants and the 10-6 Vikings.
While I agree SOS is a good metric and that a low SOS ratio can certainly aid a team in getting into the playoffs (reference the 2012 Colts), I don't think this bodes that bad for the Panthers. Every year some teams rise and others fall. For example, can you believe our only loss in the last 7 games was to the 2-14 Chiefs? We still play 8 games against the AFC East and NFC West, two divisions that sport only three strong teams between them.
Even more amazing is that the Broncos, who went 13-3 in 2012 have the leagues lowest SOS ratio so you can expect 'Ol Foxy to make another run at the SB. Of course, anything can happen so don't worry or so says Marc Sessler:
Panthers face toughest strength of schedule in 2013 - NFL.com
The Panthers, meanwhile, come out of an NFC South that included the 13-3 Atlanta Falcons and three 7-9 teams. Not a bad group when you add up the win-loss totals.
Bottom line: Strength of schedule is a siren's song. Last year's darlings stumble; new powers arise; everything you thought you knew -- you didn't. It's fun to look at, but next season will take care of next season.
So do you agree with Sessler?