Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Carolina Effect

Home Brew Update: Since I expect that I will be spending most of tomorrow sitting on my lazy ass watching the two NFL conference championship games, I went ahead and took care of bottling the latest batch of home brew today. This was my first time using Munton's CarbTabs. According to various websites, the number of tablets to use in my one-liter bottles varied from nine to fourteen. Therefore, I decided to try a little experiment. I have eight bottles. I put different numbers of tablets in the bottles and noted that number on the bottle cap. I expect the bottle with only nine tablets to be flat, while the bottle with 14 tablets will be extra carbonated. Stop by for a taste in two weeks.

This post is a continuation of a topic from a previous post. In that post, I discussed the new head coach of the Carolina Panthers and my prediction for his time holding the reigns. I based my prediction on the records of his three predecessors. While my thought process made sense to me, looking back over the post, I am not sure that I made it clear that I saw a discernible pattern of peaks and valleys in the records of the previous Panthers head coaches. Being the spreadsheet geek that I am, I made this graph of the head coaching records of the Panthers. The basic pattern is a mediocre year with a record around .500 followed by a peak year with wins in the double digits. Finally, there is a two-year decline with a mediocre year followed by a dreadful year and the coach being fired.

Dom Capers had one peak year in 1996 with the Panthers winning the NFC West division and beating the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. George Seifert did not have any peak seasons. His first mediocre year as head coach was immediately followed by a two-year decline. John Fox had three peak seasons. In 2003, the team won the NFL South division and made it to the Super Bowl. In 2005, the team made the playoffs as a wild card and went to the conference championship game where they lost to the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks. In 2008, the Panthers won 12 games for the second time in their history and the first since 1996. The team enjoyed a first round bye in the playoffs, but then got destroyed by the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional round with quarterback Jake Delhomme turning the football over five times. The Cards would go on to play in Super Bowl XLIII. My prediction for Ron Rivera's tenure was based on averaging the one peak season under Capers and the three peak seasons under Fox. I gave Rivera a total of six years with two cycles of a mediocre season followed by a peak season and then a two-year decline.

The Panthers even having a mediocre season in 2011 is not a gimme. The team is coming off a dreadful two-win season and in reality, might be looking at one or two rebuilding years before becoming competitive again. Perhaps, a mediocre 8-8 or 7-9 season is out of the question for next season. While change is the only constant in the NFL as it is in life, looking at the team's opponents for next season, it might be hard to find seven or eight wins. The Panthers did not record a win against their divisional opponents this past season. Atlanta and New Orleans should be strong again, and Tampa Bay will be looking to continue their improvement. Hopefully however, the Panthers can steal two wins next season and go 2-4 in the division. The Panthers will play the four teams from the NFC North. Tomorrow, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears are playing for the NFC Championship. I have to assume those two team will be solid next season. The Detroit Lions have been improving, and much about the Minnesota Vikings is up in the air including where they will be playing their home games. At best, the Panthers might go 2-2 against that division, but 1-3 is more realistic.

Next season, the Panthers will also play the four teams from the AFC South division, and they might do pretty well. The Indianapolis Colts should be formidable as long as they have Peyton Manning under center. However, I think the games against the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans should all be winnable for the Panthers. I say that they will go 2-2. Finally, the Panthers have games against Arizona and Washington, both of whom also finished last in their divisions. Those two games could be wins as well, but I say the Panthers will split them. To add it all up, 2-4 in their division plus 1-3 versus the NFC North plus 2-2 versus the AFC South plus 1-1 equals 6-10. I guess that record would be considered mediocre.

On the other hand, both the Falcons and Saints collapsed in their playoff games. While Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay all had impressive double-digit win seasons, I think there is a good chance that those team are not quite as good as their records indicate. The Panthers were truly dreadful this past seasons, and since their fellow NFC South teams each had two games against Panthers, I think their records are a bit inflated. I call this hypothesis the Carolina effect. Other playoff team also had wins over Panthers, so those wins would have to be discounted as well. I wanted to see if the NFC standings would look different if the 10 losses that the Panthers had against NFC opponents were removed. Once again, I went to a spreadsheet. I used the final NFL standings by conference for 2010 which can be found here. I updated the records to remove wins over the Panthers, and the winning percentages were recalculated for the affected teams based on 15 or 14 games instead of 16.

Based on the result, it turns out that my great theory does not hold water. Removing the wins over the Panthers does not change the conference standings. The top three teams, Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans, all had victories over Carolina, so discounting those victories was basically a wash. Philadelphia and Green Bay did not play the Panthers, but that did not help them gain any ground in the standings. Of course, it is impossible to say how the standings would be different if the games against the Panthers were replaced by games against better teams. The Packers could not have overtaken the Bears for the NFC North championship, but Green Bay might have gotten the higher wild card seed over the Saints. The Eagles might have gotten the second seed and a first round bye instead of the Bears. Those changes would have drastically altered the face of the playoffs.

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