Why the Carolina Panthers Will Have a Winning Season in 2013: A Schedule Analysis

Could a QB comparison predict how the Panthers will fare this season? - Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

While first reactions amongst Carolina Panthers fans are less than optimistic, a closer inspection of quarterback matchups yields a rosier outlook for the 2013 season.

The Carolina Panthers came away from the schedule release with (1) the toughest strength of schedule and (2) the league's earliest bye week, diminishing the benefits of the time off. Not to mention, the Panthers begin with a tough early stretch before playing any divisional games. This makes Panthers fans seem to believe the season is over before it even starts.

However, subscribing to the ESPN host Colin Cowherd theory of winning, the Panthers might actually start strong and potentially post a winning record. According to Cowherd, a good rule of thumb to determine who wins a regular season game is to see who has the better the quarterback. Lucky for Panthers fans, Cam Newton wears black and blue.

Believe it or not, his theory is fairly accurate. Obviously, the better QB does not always win, but it tends to balance itself out (e.g., the better QB loses a game to a lesser QB, but odds are the QB will then win one that he was not supposed to.)

Disclaimer: This theory is not perfect, is subject to injuries, could change to external circumstances, etc.

So, I tried the exercise, first looking at the Panthers 2011 and 2012 seasons, examining each game and determining who had the better QB. While it may seem subjective deciding who has a better quarterback, I went with the quarterback that the general public would consider better at the time of the game. Here are the results of the exercise:

2011 Panthers Schedule, Comparing Quarterbacks

(Week: Opponent - Opponent's QB - Better QB)

Week 1: ARI - Kevin Kolb - Them
Week 2: GB - Aaron Rodgers - Them
Week 3: JAX - Blaine Gabbert - Us
Week 4: CHI - Jay Cutler - Them
Week 5: NO - Drew Brees - Them
Week 6: ATL - Matt Ryan - Them
Week 7: WAS - John Beck - Us
Week 8: MIN - Christian Ponder - Us
Week 10: TEN - Matt Hasselbeck - Them
Week 11: DET - Matthew Stafford - Them
Week 12: IND - Curtis Painter - Us
Week 13: TB - Josh Johnson - Us
Week 14: ATL - Ryan - Them
Week 15: HOU - TJ Yates - Us
Week 16: TB - Josh Freeman - Us
Week 17: NO - Brees - Them

Predicted Record Using the QB Theory: 7-9
Actual Record: 6-10

So the theory was off by a game, but it was still pretty close, right? One can argue that Newton is by far a better QB than Kolb, but even the most optimistic would not have predicted it. In any case, comparing QB's in 2011 was a good indicator of performance. Now 2012...

2012 Panthers Schedule, Comparing Quarterbacks

(Week: Opponent - Opponent's QB - Better QB)

Week 1: TB - Freeman - Us
Week 2: NO - Brees - Them
Week 3: NYG - Eli Manning - Them
Week 4: ATL - Ryan - Them
Week 5: SEA - Russell Wilson - Us
Week 7: DAL - Tony Romo - Them
Week 8: CHI - Cutler - Them
Week 9: WAS - Robert Griffin III - Us
Week 10: DEN - Peyton Manning - Them
Week 11: TAM - Josh Freeman - Us
Week 12: PHI - Nick Foles - Us
Week 13: KC - Brady Quinn - Us
Week 14: ATL - Ryan - Them
Week 15: SD - Philip Rivers - Them
Week 16: OAK - Carson Palmer/Matt Leinart - Us
Week 17: NO - Brees - Them

Predicted Record Using the QB Theory: 7-9
Actual Record: 7-9

Again, pretty accurate by comparing quarterbacks. The Panthers lost games they should have won (TB x 2, SEA, KC), but they also won a few they should not have (SD, ATL, NO). You lose some, you win some... but it will always balance itself out in the end. Again, this can change, but as long as Newton is healthy and performs as expected, this theory yields a decent prediction. So the million dollar question is: how does 2013 look for the Panthers? Afraid you'd never ask...

2013 Panthers Schedule, Comparing Quarterbacks

(Week: Opponent - Opponent's QB - Better QB)

Week 1: SEA - Wilson - Push
Week 2: BUF - ? - Us
Week 3: NYG - E. Manning - Them
Week 5: ARI - ? - Us
Week 6: MIN - Ponder - Us
Week 7: STL - Bradford - Us
Week 8: TAM - Freeman - Us
Week 9: ATL - Ryan - Them
Week 10: SF - Kaepernick - Push
Week 11: NE - Tom Brady - Them
Week 12: MIA - Ryan Tannehill - Us
Week 13: TAM - Freeman - Us
Week 14: NO - Brees - Them
Week 15: NYJ - ? - Us
Week 16: NO - Brees - Them
Week 17: ATL - Ryan - Them

Worst Case Scenario Prediction: 8-8
Best Case Scenario Prediction: 10-6

Now that schedule doesn't look so bad after all, right? Stay optimistic, Panthers fans. Barring major disasters or injury, this season could really be the breakthrough fans have been looking for the last 3 years. What do you think? Is the schedule not as bad as we once thought?

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