As many of you are probably already aware, Bill Barnwell is currently a staff writer for Grantland and was formerly a writer for Football Outsiders. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Barnwell, then I highly recommend you check out his work. He's a numbers guy, and is a big proponent of using advanced metrics to understand and predict the outcomes of football games. In his most recent article, he endeavors to predict the fortunes of a few teams in the 2013 season based on a few simple metrics derived from data produced during the 2012 season. The following is my attempt at reading the tea leaves for the Panther's 2013 season based on the metrics discussed in the article.
Points For^2.37 / (Points For^2.37 + Points Against^2.37)
The Panthers scored 357 points last season, while giving up 363 points. Based on the above formula, the Panthers would be expected to win 49.0% of their contests in 2012. This comes out to 7.84 games in a 16 game season. Given that the Panthers ended up winning seven games this past season, they underachieved by one game. According to research done by Mr. Barnwell, a team that underachieved by between 0.5 - 1.0 games in a given season can expect to win on average 0.6 more games the following season.
2012 Panthers - 7-9
2013 Panthers - 8-8
Games Decided by 7 Points or Less
As we are all painfully aware, the Panthers were abysmal is this category last year. They went 1-7 in these games in 2012, which was easily the worst in the league. That win/loss record amounts to a 12.5% winning percentage in close games...ouch. Now the good news. According to Mr. Barnwell, teams can expect to regress back toward the mean in this category from one year to the next. This simply means that we can expect to win roughly 50% of these games in the 2013 season. Assuming for a moment that the Panthers are in as many close games next season as they were this season, they could expect to win three more games in 2013. Boom.
2012 Panthers - 7-9
2013 Panthers - 10-6
Giveaways vs. Takeaways
This metric is not discussed in the most recent article, but Mr. Barnwell has included it in past articles and I find it interesting...so indulge me for a moment. The Panthers produced 23 turnovers in 2012, while giving up 22. Obviously this produces a turnover differential of +1, which was good enough for 16th best in the league (they were also +1 in 2011.) Not bad, but there is plenty of room for improvement there. Of the 2012 playoff teams, nine had at least a +4 turnover differential while two of the remaining three teams had only a -1 differential (Indy was the outlier with a -12, and they were bounced in round 1.) The average turnover differential for the 2012 playoff teams was a +7.9, in 2011 it was +6.3, and in 2010 it was a +7.3...you get the idea. This tells us that if you want to make the playoffs in a given year, you need to have about a +7 turnover differential to ensure a spot. Unfortunately for our purposes here, turnovers are impossible to predict...but I'll give it a go.
The Panther secondary and quarterback/receiver situations remain essentially unchanged from last year to this, so I'm going to leave Interceptions static. As for fumbles, the back/receiver corps is (once again) largely unaltered from what we're used to, so I'll leave Fumbles Lost static as well. I think we can all agree that the front seven stands to be much improved this season, and given that these guys are the most likely to produce fumbles we'll go ahead and suggest a moderate increase of +5. This gives us an expected turnover differential of +6 for the 2013 season, which should put the Panthers right on the cusp of being a playoff team...let's say two additional wins.
2012 Panthers - 7-9
2013 Panthers - 9-7
Strength of Schedule
In all honesty I am not a particularly big fan of this metric as an predictor of success for a coming season. I think it's a very interesting tool when used to evaluate a completed season, but I don't believe it serves us well in a prognosticating capacity. Why do I feel this way? We'll get there. First, it has to be noted that based on last year's win/loss records for their 2013 opponents,the Panthers have the league's most difficult schedule in 2013 (a .543 opponent winning percentage for 2012.) Now, to put this statistic's predictive value into perspective let's pick on everybody's favorite NFL villain...the Patriots.
The Panthers will clash with the Patriots at home, on Monday night, in week 11 of the 2013 season. The Patriots will be coming off their bye week. The Patriots...in prime time...with an extra week to prepare...yikes. This game feels like a loss based on these factors, the 2012 Patriot's win/loss record of 12-4, and their 2012 roster. However, in the past few months the roster of the 2013 Patriots has undergone significant change when compared to that of the 2012 squad. The Patriot offense is predicated on having two athletic pass-catching tight ends...and they currently have zero. The Patriots have also turned over their entire receiving corps, and I think few would argue that it was for the better. The point of all this? And yes I realize this is laughably simplistic...but...the 2013 Patriots are not the 2012 Patriots, and strength of schedule is a poor metric for predicting future success. Ironclad logic. Ahem...
There are certainly many other factors to consider when predicting the outcome of a new season, but this gives us some idea of what we can reasonably expect. So what did we learn? Well, it looks like the Panthers are likely to win 8-10 games in 2013. Let's just go ahead and split the difference.
2013 Panthers - 9-7
This modest improvement would likely elevate the Panthers to a "near miss" for the playoffs based on the relative strength of the NFC. So there ya go. The numbers say we shouldn't look to 2013 as the year for the Panthers to break through...but what do you think?