Inside the Panthers

Advanced statistics help to explain Carolina Panthers’ 8-0 start

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera talks to line judge Ed Walker (123) while playing the Green Bay Packers in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, November 8, 2015. The Panthers won 37-29, and improve to 8-0.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera talks to line judge Ed Walker (123) while playing the Green Bay Packers in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, November 8, 2015. The Panthers won 37-29, and improve to 8-0. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

For the advanced stats geeks out there, ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight attempted to break down how the Carolina Panthers are an improbable 8-0.

Well, to say improbable wouldn’t be statistically correct. According to FiveThirtyEight, there was a 1.8 percent probability at the start of the season that Carolina would be undefeated by Week 10. In contrast, the also undefeated Patriots had a 6.6 percent probability.

The blog posits three reasons why the Panthers have gone from a 7-8-1 team last year to 8-0 this season. First, writer Neil Paine looks at Carolina’s improved rushing attack, which is the best in the NFL in yards per game.

“…[A]lmost all of the change is owed to a more efficient rushing game,” Paine writes. “(Newton himself is on pace for about the same production in the rushing game as last season.)”

But just because Newton is on pace for similar statistics doesn’t mean he’s rushing the same. Take into account that, at this point last season, Newton was hobbled by a bum ankle that limited him on the ground while also having to adjust to wearing a flak jacket due to fractured ribs suffering late in the preseason.

While Newton has similar rushing numbers this year to last, the threat of the quarterback running more can also help Carolina’s rushing offense.

Next is Carolina’s improved pass defense. Paine writes that only four other teams—Denver, Washington, New York Jets and Philadelphia—have improved their pass defense more than Carolina.

Explaining that advanced statistic is the improvement of Josh Norman in year four, adding more speed in the secondary and finally generating a pass rush this season after floundering at it last year.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott have said before that it took the defense a while to figure out its identity once it realized, for sure, Greg Hardy wouldn’t return to the lineup after a full offseason and training camp with the Pro Bowl defensive end in mind.

Finally, Paine writes that despite Carolina’s sub-.500 record last year, the Panthers weren’t actually all that bad. The Panthers were projected before the season by FiveThirtyEight’s advanced measures to win 9.2 games in 2015, a mark that would make them a fringe playoff team.

They’re now on track to win 4.6 more games this year, meaning FiveThirtyEight projects Carolina to finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 14-2 this regular season.

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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