Carolina Panthers seems like the best team in the NFL. They have an unblemished 12-0 with wins against Green Bay and Seattle.
The numbers love Carolina’s defense. They rank 2nd in pass defense by my yards per attempt adjusted for strength of schedule. Their secondary deserves most of the credit, as their pass rush ranks 15th by sack rate adjusted for schedule.
The pass defense has made a huge leap with the emergence of cornerback Josh Norman. The fourth year player from Coastal Carolina took over a starting role late last season and has blossomed into a shutdown corner this season.
However, other factors suggest Carolina is overrated.
Cam Newton and Carolina’s offense
The offense limits the ceiling of this team.
Cam Newton seems like an elite quarterback at the helm of an undefeated team. However, Newton has completed a below NFL average 58.4% of his passes, and Carolina ranks 18th in pass offense by yards per attempt adjusted for schedule.
The advanced statistics also don’t like Newton. ESPN’s QBR metric, which accounts for rushing plays, ranks Newton 14th in the NFL behind studs like Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick. A closer look at Newton’s numbers shows that the defense has made big plays after his turnovers.
A weak schedule
The schedule has also greatly helped Carolina’s pursuit of perfection. They play in a weak NFC South division, and drew a putrid NFC East out of division.
In addition, Carolina finishes the season with 4 opponents in these divisions: Atlanta twice, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants. They have a healthy 23% chance to end the regular season undefeated.
However, Carolina’s path to the Super Bowl gets more difficult in the playoffs. By my ensemble calculations that combine metrics based on points and yards, the Panthers would be a slight home underdog to Seattle and Arizona. In a neutral site Super Bowl, New England and Cincinnati would be favored to win.
Let’s not crown the Panthers Super Bowl champions just yet.
Advanced NFL statistics
The numbers cited in this article, such as sack rate adjusted for strength of schedule and predictions based on ensemble numbers, are available to members of The Power Rank. To learn more, click here.