2012 has been a tale of two seasons for the Carolina Panthers, swinging from lots of losing to consistent winning.
But don't blame the Panthers - blame their opponents.
The Panthers' strength of schedule to begin the season was stronger than the merciless peppers of Quetzlzacatenango. After the brutally tough start, Carolina is closing out the season against opponents weaker than C. Montgomery Burns taking batting practice.
Not surprisingly the Panthers began the season 2-7 after facing off against many of the NFL's best. But over the last six games Carolina's strength of schedule has significantly decreased, and the Panthers have responded by reeling off four wins with just two losses.
The Brutal First Nine Games
Talk about having the deck stacked against you.
The Panthers' first nine opponents have won a combined 61% (82-53) of their games through Week 16.
In Weeks 1 and 2 Carolina faced NFC South rivals Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) and New Orleans Saints (7-8), and that was as easy as it got for the Panthers for the next two months.
Carolina's opponents between Weeks 3 and 10 have gone a combined 69-36 (66% winning percentage), including facing the 13-2 Atlanta Falcons, 12-3 Denver Broncos, and 10-5 Seattle Seahawks.
Carolina went 1-6 during their extremely tough stretch between Weeks 3 and 10.
The good news for the Panthers was that their schedule got much easier toward the end of the season. The bad news for the Panthers was that their 2-7 start had already doomed their season, making their late-season wins largely meaningless.
The Cupcake Close
After squaring off against many of the best teams in the league, Carolina has been closing out the season against some of the NFL's worst.
The Panthers last six opponents between Weeks 11 and 16 have gone a combined 35-55 (39% winning percentage) this year, including the 1-10 Kansas City Chiefs, 3-7 Philadelphia Eagles, and 4-10 Oakland Raiders. However, 13 of those 35 wins belong to the Atlanta Falcons.
Carolina has responded by winning four of their last six games - including their last three in a row - during their softer schedule.
Ironically, one of Carolina's losses was to the Chiefs in Week 13, giving Kansas City its only win this year. As I have previously, the Panthers should have to wear "The Scarlet Q" after getting lit up by Brady Quinn in their loss to KC.
If not for the loss to the Chiefs, the Panthers would be on a five-game winning streak as they head into their last game of the year against the New Orleans Saints.
Yes, the Panthers are hot right now, but their recent strength of schedule (or lack thereof) has a lot to do with it.
Andrew Sweat covers the NFC South. Visit Andrew's archive or check out these articles: