The standings say that the Carolina Panthers are 3-8-1, a game ahead of Tampa Bay in the win column and owners of two fewer losses because of their tie with Cincinnati.
But the Buccaneers don’t look like a worse team than the Panthers, who have lost six games in a row and are 1-8-1 since Week 3. In fact, if you’ll allow math to be thrown out the window for a brief moment, Carolina is the worst team in the NFC South.
Scratch that … the Panthers are the worst team in the NFC. Forget about the records.
Only three teams have given up more points this season than the 331 (27.6 points per game) Carolina has allowed. And that’s just through 12 games. In the entire 2013 season, the Panthers only gave up 241 points. Their 15.1 points-per-game average ranked No. 2 in the NFL behind Seattle, the Super Bowl champions.
If you focus solely on games played after Week 2 (Carolina started the season with wins over Tampa Bay and Detroit), the Panthers have allowed 31 points per game and have just one win (a seven-point victory over Chicago in Week 5) in 10 games.
In that 10-game span, the Panthers’ average margin of defeat, in eight games, has been 16.6 points per game. Carolina’s net points total since Week 3 is minus-126.
What makes Carolina’s losses tougher to swallow is that the Panthers haven’t really been close to winning. Six losses have been by at least 18 points. Three have been by at least three touchdowns.
Look at Tampa Bay in comparison.
The Buccaneers are 2-8 since Week 3 (a half game better than Carolina) and have been so much closer to winning games.
Tampa Bay has lost two overtime games, and finished five on the wrong side of a game that was as close as a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Where Carolina has just two single-digit losses since Week 3, Tampa Bay has five.
Take away two absolute shellacking’s at the hands of Atlanta (42-point loss) and Baltimore (31-point loss), and Tampa Bay’s numbers get even better.
The simple matter is this: Tampa Bay and Carolina have both lost eight games over their last 10 played. The Panthers are losing by an average of 16.6 points per game, and the Bucs 13.6. While those figures seem close, they are greatly skewed by two enormous margins of defeat.
And consider that Tampa Bay’s net points total is minus-86 since Week 3, 40 points better than Carolina’s.
Tampa Bay has been tougher to beat of late. And if you want more proof that Carolina is worse off right now than Tampa Bay, put on your head coach/general manager hat and consider which team you’d rather take over.
The only three areas of Carolina’s roster that shine brighter than Tampa Bay’s are quarterback — and Cam Newton is starting to look less and less like the prize he was supposed to be — linebacker and defensive line. The linebacker corps in Tampa Bay is closer to matching Carolina’s than most people think, and without Greg Hardy, the defensive line comparison is almost a wash.
When it comes to the receiving corps, running backs, offensive line and secondary, the Buccaneers have the better units.
THE RACE TO THE FINISH LINE WILL BE FUN TO WATCH, BUT MAYBE ONE- SIDED
Atlanta and New Orleans both sit at 5-7 and tied for first place in the NFC South. Yes, one of these teams will represent the division, and host a playoff game.
Which team will come out as the victor?
Atlanta: at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, at New Orleans, Carolina
New Orleans: Carolina, at Chicago, Atlanta, at Tampa Bay
The difficulty of the remaining schedules greatly favors the Saints. New Orleans doesn’t have a winning team left on its slate. The Falcons still have to travel to division-leading (also tied for best record in the NFL) Green Bay and host the 7-5 Steelers.
The combined records of teams left for Atlanta is 24-23-1. For New Orleans it’s 15-32-1. And the Saints still get to face both the lowly Bucs and Panthers.
Anything can happen with those three division games on New Orleans’ schedule. But there’s no sane person on the planet that would choose to take over Atlanta’s final four games instead of New Orleans’.
Just like Tampa Bay is the better team now, and moving forward, compared to Carolina, New Orleans is in a much better spot compared to Atlanta.