Never let it be said that the only records worth paying attention to are the ones set by winners. In the midst of a heated battle for a (likely) first-round out, the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons are sitting atop the NFC South, with Cam Newton and company at 6-8-1 against the Falcons’ 6-9. They are, in the general measure of the NFL, not the best and brightest that professional football has to offer, but one of them is going to make it into the postseason.
Bad NFC teams have been a constant in the NFL, although they’re not typically atop the divisional standings — this is a new low. In the history of professional football as we know it, there has never been a team like the Falcons or the Panthers that’s been able to make it all the way to the playoffs. What makes these teams unique?
According to Football Perspective, there has never been a team that has made the playoffs after going winless over a two-month period. The Panthers did just that from October 6 to December 6 this season, as fans of the team are undoubtedly aware, while the Falcons will be the first team in league history to have lost seven games or more outside of its division. (All but one win the Falcons have had this season came against other NFC teams. Which is to say, against bad ones.)
This is, shall we say, nothing short of a Christmas miracle — especially if your idea of a miracle extends to watching a fairly middle-of-the-road squad get an opportunity to prove itself against an unrepentantly good team. We’ll take a look at the road the NFC South winner, whoever it is, will have to take in order to make it to the Super Bowl.
For the exercise, since the NFL prohibits amalgamating teams and talents for better chances at postseason success — note: this is true of all professional sports leagues — the Carolanta Panthons are not a real team. We’re just calling them that because either squad could be the one that winds up at the top of the division.
So in their first postseason matchup, using the numbers up through Week 16, the Panthons would go up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on the road, on the icy tundra of Lambeau Field. Assuming an upset, however bold an assumption that would be, Carolanta would continue down the dusty trail all the way to the Pacific Northwest, going up against the Seattle Seahawks.
That’s a rough start, but assuming that Newton hits Julio Jones for some awesome bombs, the Panthons would be facing down one of three teams: the best out of the Cowboys, the Lions, and the Arizona Cardinals, all squads that have notched at least 11 wins. These are, as they say, not the best odds in the world, but that’s what’s going to have to happen for the NFC South divisional winner to even make it to the Super Bowl, let alone contend.