Patriots and Panthers: Why are Both Teams Undefeated?


The New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers are rolling through the league as the lone undefeated remaining. Their success this season has a lot in common.

On a chilly Monday night when Tom Brady was hit seven times in the first half alone, the New England Patriots fought out win number 10 on the year, squeaking by the Buffalo Bills by a final score of 20-13. It’s like the only things you can count on in this world are Chipotle being delicious, Adele selling a zillion records, and Bill Belichick beating Rex Ryan. Again.

Plenty of people started talking about the possibility of New England running the table before this season even started, and plenty of people won’t stop talking about it, either. Tom Brady is MOTIVATED. The Patriots are out to PROVE TO THE WORLD that they can win. Bill Belichick is RUNNING UP THE SCORE TO MAKE A POINT. Lather, rinse, repeat, and kablammo, a sports writer could crank out the same column every week.

Not that anyone’s doing that, or anything.

But there’s another team sitting pretty at ten wins and no losses this year too, and it’s a team that couldn’t even fall ass-backwards into the playoffs with a winning record last year – the Carolina Panthers. And as Bill Barnwell of ESPN pointed out on Monday, there are plenty of similarities between the Panthers and the Pats.

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They both have quarterbacks that are on everyone’s short list for NFL MVP this year. Both defenses have played much better than any preseason prediction would have given them credit for. Both teams are dealing with banged-up, subpar offensive line play, both have a tight end putting up rockstar statistics (and, if ESPN’s 30 for 30 film “The U, Part 2” is to be believed, both like to party also), and both quarterbacks are getting it done with receivers like Danny Amendola, Keshawn Martin, Ted Ginn Jr, and Jerricho Cotchery.

And depending on who you ask, both teams have a pretty legit shot at going 16-0 and grabbing home field advantage throughout their conference playoffs.

Having said all that, there’s one other reason both Carolina and New England are both undefeated at 10-0 and can both run the table and hit the playoffs without a loss:

Their opponents outside of their respective divisions, by and large, suck. And they’re almost the exact same teams.

According to the NFL’s operations page, outside of their own division, each team plays a game against each of the four teams in a division within the conference, and each team plays a game against each of the four teams in a division outside of the conference.

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Basically, every team plays an AFC and NFC conference that they wouldn’t normally play, and then of course, there’s their own division games and a couple of others that are determined by “where the teams finished in their divisions in the previous season”.

This year, the Patriots and the Panthers both play against the NFC East and the AFC South.

And good lord, sometimes it seems like both of those divisions are actually trying to be worse than each other.

In the AFC South, the Colts and Texans are tied for the division lead with a 5-5 record. The Panthers and the Pats have both beaten Indianapolis and Jacksonville already, and the Panthers have beaten the Titans and Texans too.

And in the NFC East, the New York Giants, of all teams, lead the division with a 5-5 record. New England and Carolina have both beat Washington already, and the Patriots beat Dallas and New York too. Carolina beat the Eagles in week 7, and play the Cowboys this week and the Giants in Week 15.

Carolina and New England have gone 11-0 against the NFC East and AFC South this year. No other divisions in football have a 5-5 team winning the division. Heck, in some divisions, like the NFC North or AFC North, a 5-5 record wouldn’t even be good enough for second place.

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Carolina and New England are both really, seriously good football teams.

Their quarterbacks are playing some of the best football in the league, the defenses are blowing everyone’s expectations out of the water and in the top 5 in points allowed, and there’s a very real chance that we’ll get to see an undefeated-vs-undefeated rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the Patriots beat the Panthers 32-29 in one of the most amazing championship games any of us have ever seen.  It could happen.

However, it certainly helps when you’re playing chess while the other teams on your schedule are playing checkers.