In 1992, one year B.P., the New England Patriots were 2-14, in part thanks to a 1-5 record in one-score games. Throw in some regression to the mean and the first pick in every round of the ’93 draft, and going 5-11 in 1993 wasn’t so much of an accomplishment as it was pre-ordained.
In 1996, one year B.P., the Jets went 1-15. New York was a horrific 0-7 in one-score games. Throw in the #1 pick in every round, and they were an attractive target. Parcells did do a masterful job cleaning up the mess left by Rich Kotite, but getting them to 9-7 looked very impressive in large part thanks to the poor fortunes of the team the prior year.
The Big Tuna again went after the low-hanging fruit again when he took over as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations in Miami (it is here my old friend would get particularly annoyed, noting that Parcells found a way to have his cake and eat it too. If the Dolphins succeeded, Parcells would have “done it again.” Had they failed, well, he wasn’t the coach.) He took over a 1-15 team that was bad but not 1-15 bad; they had faced one of the harder schedules in the league and gone 1-6 in close games. Enter Jake Long, Chad Pennington, and the Wildcat, and the Dolphins went 11-5. Parcells did it again!
In any event, that’s just background. The 2013 Panthers are the real topic today — and they are the lowest hanging fruit any potential coach has seen in decades. Consider:
- The Panthers are currently 3-9, and little is expected of them going forward. They are now just 9-19 in the Cam Newton era.
- Despite that, Carolina ranks 4th in Brian Burke’s Advanced NFL Stats efficiency ratings. Now maybe they aren’t the 4th best team in the league, but Brian’s system is purely predictive and minimizes events that shape our views but are unlikely to impact future records. I have no doubt that they’re closer to the 4th best team in the league than the 4th worst, which is where they are by record.
- Football Outsiders ranks Carolina 18th — which, by the way, still means they’re much better than their record — but even that is misleading. Schatz ranks Carolina 32nd in special teams — a unit that Burke ignores — but instead has them 15th in offensive DVOA and 14th in defensive DVOA. That means excluding special teams the Panthers are above average, and special teams performance is notoriously fickle.
- So why are the Panthers 3-9? Carolina is currently 0-7 in one-score games.
There’s an even simpler way to show how the Panthers are massively underachieving this year. Net yards per attempt isn’t the only stat in the world, but it’s one of the most important indicators of an offense’s effectiveness. Net yards per attempt is just as important on defense; NY/A differential, the difference between how many net yards you gain per offensive attempt and how many you allow per defensive attempt, is a simple shorthand to highlight the best in the league. Here are the results through 13 weeks (i.e., not counting last night’s game):
Carolina is fifth in this metric. Following their early-season struggles, the Panthers fired GM Marty Hurney, and the writing is on the wall that Ron Rivera will not be coaching this team in 2013. Despite having a “down” year, Cam Newton actually leads the league in yards per attempt. The regression to the mean forces are so strong that they could lure Bill Parcells out of retirement. More realistically, though, they could lure the Bill Parcells of this generation out of the booth: Jon Gruden.The good-natured jabs at Parcells at the beginning of the post underscore two key points: Parcells was in high enough demand that he could wait for the perfect job to open up and he was smart enough to recognize a good opportunity. I’d argue that Carolina is probably the largest sleeping giant (whatever that means) of the last 20 years. Whoever coaches the 2013 Panthers will probably win 8 games without breaking a sweat. True, the NFC South will be tough, but the Panthers have a strong nucleus and will have some high draft picks.
Jon Gruden has been courted for years. If he’s waiting for the perfect opportunity to open up — one that maximizes praise for turning around a team while minimizing the amount of work and skill actually required to do so — then this is it. The cushiest jobs go to those in the highest demand, and no one has a better agent than Gruden. And if he gets a chance to deliver his old boss two losses a year, all the better. I’m sure he learned something from Al Davis after all.