Coach Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers have repeated the one-game-at-a-time mantra so much this season, it’s like that’s their tagline for the year.
They focus on the next game because it’s the most important one, they say.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t look toward the future.
The 8-0 Panthers are one of three undefeated teams remaining in the NFL along with the Patriots and Bengals. Carolina’s final eight games will be played against teams that have a combined record of 31-36.
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And only two of those teams—the 5-4 Giants and 6-3 Falcons—have winning records.
The chances of going undefeated are remarkably slim. According to ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight analytics website, the Panthers have a 1.8 percent probability of going 16-0.
Only four teams in NFL history, and just two since the AFL-NFLmerger in 1970, have gone undefeated in the regular season.
Still, as it stands now, the Panthers are likely favored in each of their remaining eight games.
Here’s a look at how the rest of the schedule breaks down, with the Observer’s win probability for game.
Nov. 15 at Tennessee
Win probability: 75 percent
The 2-6 Titans don’t appear to be as bad as their record would indicate, at least if you saw how they beat the Saints in New Orleans last week.
They have a poised rookie quarterback in Marcus Mariota and a defense that ranks sixth in yards allowed per game. The Titans dropped three games against quality opponents—Miami, Buffalo and Atlanta—by a combined six points.
Could the Panthers be in for a let-down game in Nashville this week? It doesn’t seem likely based on how well the offense is playing and how effective Carolina’s pass rush can be against a porous Tennessee offensive line protecting a rookie.
Nov. 22 vs. Washington
Win probability: 78 percent
The football team representing the nation’s capital is tough to get a pulse on, but Washington has yet to win a football game on the road this season.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been inconsistent for most of the year, and Washington has the league’s fourth-worst rushing defense .
Carolina could still have the league’s best rushing attack in two weeks.
When the Panthers are able to run the ball, even when the opponent knows they’re going to, that’s when the offense is really clicking.
Nov. 26 at Dallas
Win probability: 55 percent
Yes, the Cowboys are 2-6 right now and haven’t won a game since Week 2, but changes will be coming by Thanksgiving.
First, and most importantly, quarterback Tony Romo should be ready to play by Week 12. Dallas’ offense has limped along with Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden since Romo broke his collarbone in late September.
But Romo is eligible to return to game action on Nov. 22, and the following week the Cowboys will play at home in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving Day.
A healthy Romo, a healthy Dez Bryant at receiver and a revenge-seeking Greg Hardy at home on a short week makes this game almost a toss-up.
Dec. 6 at New Orleans
Win probability: 62.5 percent
The Week 2 game between these teams came down to a Josh Norman interception in the end zone, but that ball was thrown by backup Luke McCown.
In Week 13, futureHall of Famer Drew Brees should be quarterbacking the Saints in the Superdome, where the Panthers have split the past four games with their division rival.
The Saints are 4-5 now but have two winnable games in Washington and Houston before meeting Carolina. A 6-5 Saints team at home, looking to sneak into a wild-card spot against a rival, could be dangerous.
Dec. 13 vs. Atlanta
Win probability: 60 percent
The NFL schedule-makers made sure to pack in some December excitement with two Atlanta games in three weeks.
It appears the Falcons aren’t as real as their 5-0 start made some believe they were after losses to the Saints, Bucs and a Blaine Gabbert-led 49ers team in the past four weeks.
Last year the Panthers dropped a home game against the Falcons they should have won, but these aren’t last year’s Panthers.
It’s very likely this game will have playoff implications. And with that night’s primetime game currently set for the 4-4 Seahawks and 2-6 Ravens, this home game might be a candidate to be flexed to Sunday night.
Dec. 20 at New York
Win probability: 59 percent
The 5-4 Giants lead the NFC East, but that could change any week with that division. Still, there will likely be playoff implications with this game, too.
New York will get the Panthers at home, and it should be the first and only really cold game Carolina has to play this season. That should work in favor of the Giants.
In a new offensive scheme, quarterback Eli Manning has been releasing the ball quickly—something that negates a good pass rush. But the Giants’ defense is allowing more yards (422.8) per game than any other defense in the league.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. going against Josh Norman should be great fun.
Dec. 27 at Atlanta
Win probability: 53 percent
The Falcons playing at home with one week left in the regular season and the potential playoff hopes, homefield advantage, division championship hanging in the balance make this the toughest remaining game on Carolina’s schedule.
The past two years the Panthers have played at Atlanta late in the season—with some of those things hanging in the balance—and beaten the Falcons. They’ll be looking for a third consecutive one after Christmas.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton might not want to admit it, but this game is never just any game for him. He always wants to give just a little bit more against the Falcons in his hometown.
This has the makings of a great game.
Jan. 3 vs. Tampa Bay
Win probability: 68 percent
At 3-5 now, the Bucs aren’t great but they’re improving. They’re a much better team than what Carolina saw in Week 4 in Tampa when rookie quarterback Jameis Winston turned the ball over game the ball away four times.
Tampa Bay has won games in New Orleans and in Atlanta, but it has a tough slate ahead before this game. Games in Philadelphia, Indianapolis and St. Louis won’t be easy for the Bucs before wrapping up the season at home against the Panthers.
By the start of January, Tampa Bay could be angling for a high draft pick or looking to play spoiler to a divisional foe.
Panthers’ remaining opponents
at Tennessee (2-6)
at N.Y. Giants (5-4)
at Dallas (2-6)
at Atlanta (6-3)
at New Orleans (4-4)
Tampa Bay (3-5)