I’ve gone through the primetime schedules, and while there are several notable games, one thing stood out to me.
Carolina. The Panthers play in two of what will be the more anticipated primetime matchups of the year, but why not more?
I was fully expecting Cam Newton and the Panthers to be featured prominently in stand alone games in 2012. All he did was have one of the best rookie seasons ever, on a team that was frequently involved in exciting shootouts. The Panthers ranked 5th in points scored but 27th in points allowed. Coming off a 2-14 year, Carolina never played in a primetime game last year. On most Sunday afternoons, they were usually in my rotation of games to keep an eye on most frequently, and it rarely disappointed.
So, I expected the league to get the Carolina Panthers in primetime regularly in 2012. Sure, they do not have the tradition and national fan base of some other draws, but there is something else that sells in the NFL: entertaining star offensive players, and Cam is near the top of the list entering year two. Additionally, there are now 100 stand-alone national games including the Thanksgiving contests. Every team is required to be on once, and no more than five times.
Carolina is on TWICE. Once on a Thursday Night NFL broadcast that many in the country that do not have the NFL Network will not see, against the Giants. Once on a Monday Night in November, the capper to a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend in what will be one of the most anticipated Monday Night games of the year. None on Sunday Night, the NFL’s showcase game.
Only eight teams are on less – Miami, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland.
I can make an argument for maybe ten teams having more primetime games than Carolina based on drawing power in 2012. Instead, they end up with a below average number of primetime games.
But they were only 6-10 last year, you say? They haven’t earned it? The league sometimes does a poor job of anticipating the breakout teams and over schedules “winning” teams that fall apart. Carolina was 6-10, yes, but they were 2-6 in close games, and those close game records are notoriously fickle from year to year. They were already close to an average team. In addition, they closed stronger, winning 4 of the final 6.
New Orleans’ profile of offensive team that cannot play defense is one that suggests improvement in 2012. Defenses are more volatile and easier to turn around than offense, and better health and some key roster moves can make a big difference. The offense, on the other hand, is likely to still be very good so long as Newton is under center.
There have been eight other teams who averaged scoring at least 24 points a game and giving up at least 24 a game, and finished with a losing record. None of them had a losing record the following year. They averaged 9.6 wins. Carolina is going to be somewhere along the spectrum of team that shows dramatic improvement and leaps to double digit wins if the defense makes strides and they are average in close games, to still entertaining in shootouts even if the defense is still below average. They are a draw either way.
That they are only featured on prime time games the same amount as teams like Arizona, Tennessee and Oakland is head scratching. At least I know who I’ll be putting in the must-view rotation on Sunday afternoons in the fall again.